Report: Declining enrollments add further stress to already stretched Illinois colleges and universities

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A new report from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that Illinois colleges and universities with smaller populations have seen relatively large decreases to their enrollment in the past two years.

The report found that the cuts that Illinois colleges have been forced to make, as a result of the state’s budget stalemate, are a likely factor in declining enrollment.

The news is another troubling sign of strain on the state’s higher education systems. The “stopgap budget” approved in June of 2016 appropriated $1.6 billion over 18 months – significantly less than the $1.9 billion directed to them over the 12 months prior.

As a result, Colleges have been forced to institute furloughs, hundreds of layoffs, tuition increases, and elimination of programs.

Ratings for six of seven Illinois public institutions followed by Moody’s Investors Service have been downgraded to junk or barely investment grade.

Eastern President David Glassman said, reported in the Daily Eastern News, “public relations issues” – publicity about the budget impasse – have hurt Eastern’s enrollment and caused a lack of confidence with parents of potential students.

While larger universities like University of Illinois have been able to rely on fundraising and larger cash reserves, they are not entirely immune to the political environment.  Teacher retention rates have dropped as faculty seek more stability among academic programs and stronger job security.

Aspiring professors, like Walter Van Dries, are looking out of state.

Amid reports of a professorial “brain drain,” the University of Illinois recently launched a three-year, $60 million recruitment effort to lure top faculty to its universities. Crain’s Chicago Business reported in 2016 in Urbana, 50 professors quit, versus 23 the previous year.

Even if Springfield does come to a budget resolution soon, college officials remain nervous about what that plan would look like.

Governor Bruce Rauner has previously proposed cuts of 30 percent to higher education while shifting some state pension obligations to the schools.

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