ISU, Heartland expect cuts, worry about pension reform

2013-03-11T20:00:00Z ISU, Heartland expect cuts, worry about pension reformBy Lenore Sobota | lsobota@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

NORMAL — After repeated years of dwindling state support, the presidents of Illinois State University and Heartland Community College are taking the latest proposed budget cuts in stride.

But both ISU President Al Bowman and Heartland President Allen Goben continue to worry about how — and when — the state will resolve its pension funding issues.

Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing an overall cut to higher education of about $79.6 million — 4 percent — for fiscal year 2014, which will start July 1.

Bowman is expecting state support for ISU’s operating budget to decline 3 percent to 5 percent, based on information from the governor’s office.

ISU’s fiscal year 2013 operating budget is $404.2 million, with $74.1 million — 18.3 percent — coming from the state.

He does not anticipate such a cut would result in furloughs or job cuts, but he added, “It would put upward pressure on the tuition side of things.”

Goben, who met with fellow members of the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents on Friday, said: “We had the usual doom and gloom (at the meeting). … It’s getting to be a broken record.”

He said he expects the state share of the college’s operating budget to drop from its current 6 percent to about 5 percent.

The cut is important to Heartland, Goben said, but it will not be as devastating as it would be if the college depended more heavily on state support, as some community colleges do.

“We’ve already had a lot of the air let out of the balloon,” Goben said.

Bowman said, “In my conversations with legislators, there is an awful lot of support for education, but the dollars just aren’t there.”

He is not optimistic about the governor and lawmakers reaching agreement on a pension resolution.

“The proposals that are widely being considered are unconstitutional,” Bowman said.

He thinks “a solution that has a lot of merit” is one which would phase in a transfer of the state’s share of pension contributions to the universities, fund the pension plan at 80 percent and re-amortize the pension debt so the state’s payments would not be so steep.

During his budget address, Quinn repeated his support for the Monetary Assistance Program, which provides grants to college students with financial need. He called it “an investment that Illinois can’t afford to cut.”

Bowman said Quinn’s support of MAP is “one of the bright spots in the budget the last two years.”

Goben would like to see more MAP money directed to community college students.

Because the program runs out of money earlier each year and community college students tend to enroll later than those at four-year schools, the early deadlines disproportionately affect community college students, he said.

He said community colleges provide the state with a good return on its investment because they “educate more people for less money.”

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(1) Comments

  1. mestizo
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    mestizo - March 12, 2013 12:50 am
    The question is if tuition and local taxes can support higher education. There's also talk of diminishing funds for busing K-12 kids. It's ironic that state and federal politicians campaign on education issues but don't follow through with funding their promises. At this rate in the near future higher education will be only for the children of the rich, the exceptional athletes or for those able to take on debt.

    I work with many people who have two mortgages. One for their home and the other for their tuition costs. In some cases the tuition is higher than the home loan. It will probably get worse before it gets better.

    Look around Illinois and you'll find a huge disparity between the quality of education based on the economics of the school districts. The wealthy school districts on Chicago's North Shore have the best funded schools in the state. Poor areas like Chicago's Southern Suburbs or East St. Louis have some of the worst schools in Illinois. Poverty gets entrenched as a result with kids getting a lousy education. No one wants to move to an area with bad schools if they can avoid it. Poverty breeds crime. It doesn't stay in depressed communities either. It affects all of us. We can't ignore the disparity. We see it every night on the news with the growing crime rate in Central Illinois.
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