CHRONICLE: New chancellor seeks to revive SIU after budget crisis

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Southern Illinois University in Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno has announced a proposal to restructure the school’s academic programs in light of the school’s struggles, which were dramatically worsened by the state’s budget crisis.

In the more than two-year budget impasse, the state’s colleges have been forced to make dramatic cuts, spend into cash reserves, lay off staff, institute furloughs, freeze hiring, and eliminate programming.

“We are in a free-fall, and this is directly impacting the health of the institution,” Montemagno said.

Since 2015, SIU has had a nearly 40 percent decrease in the number of freshmen, from 2,177 to just 1,319, according to the Chicago Tribune. A 9 percent enrollment decrease since just last year adds up to a loss of $9.4 million in tuition revenue for the school.

Montemagno is proposing a drastic reorganization, eliminating numerous academic departments and department heads.

During the budget impasse, Governor Bruce Rauner pushed the state to the brink, holding the budget hostage in order to pass non-budgetary reforms.

A study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found the “two-year state budget impasse and corresponding cuts to public colleges and universities cost 7,500 jobs, and more than $1 billion in economic output annually. In-state student tuition rose an average of 7 percent — nearly $1,000 — and schools enrolled about 72,000 fewer students.”

The damage hit every corner and area of Illinois. The Institute found almost every region lost higher education-related jobs and suffered reductions in student enrollment.

The Institute noted that, thankfully, the bipartisan budget restored much of the funding cut for universities. Rauner vetoed that funding – but the legislature overrode the veto with bipartisan super majority votes.

Even before the budget crisis, Rauner had proposed cuts of 30 percent to higher education, while shifting some state pension obligations to the schools.

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