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Illinois State University President Larry Dietz, left, and  trustees board chairman Rocky Donahue at a meeting in February at the Bone Student Center.

NORMAL — Members of the Illinois State University board of trustees think the school is not getting its fair share of state dollars and intend to get more vocal about it.

Speaking before a vote to increase tuition and fees, board chairman Rocky Donahue said Illinois State University gets the lowest amount of state appropriations per full-time-equivalent student out of every public university in the state.

The statewide average is $6,579 per student while ISU receives $3,551, he said. At the University of Illinois, the per-student state appropriation is $7,047, he added.

“This is troublesome. This is simply ridiculous,” said Donahue.

“We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more,” said Rauschenberger. “We are at a key point, a key juncture. We want our fair share.”

Donahue said ISU has put more than $22 million in university funds into merit- and needs-based student aid.

Donahue, Rauschenberger and others said ISU has to do a better job of getting ISU's success story out.

“Everyone in this room knows higher education is under attack,” said Donahue.

Complaints about higher education circle around declining enrollments, administrative bloat and students leaving the state, he said.

But ISU has seen record enrollment in three of the last four years and has left 120 administrative and staff positions vacant since 2016, Donahue noted. In addition, 97 percent of its students are from Illinois, he said.

“Tonight and tomorrow, we're going to graduate more Illinois students than any university in Illinois,” said Donahue, referring to spring commencement.

Speaking after the meeting, Donahue noted that ISU is among the leading universities nationally in retention and graduation rates as well as low student default rates.

“For this to continue, that state has to do its share, too,” he said. “We're a public university.”

Trustee Bob Dobski said, “It's just a shame when we ask what can be done about the inequity, we're told … it will be hard to change. … This needs to change now.”

The lack of a capital program was also a source of complaint.

Funding for a fine arts complex to replace or renovate Centennial East, Centennial West and the Center for Visual Arts has been on ISU's wish list for more than a decade. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn came to ISU in February 2013 announcing the release of $54.3 million for the complex, but the money never came through.

Meanwhile, the university has spent millions of dollars on stopgap repairs.

Jonathan Lackland, ISU's director of governmental relations, told the board there is no word yet whether funding will be included for the fine arts complex in the next state budget.

Donahue suggested that, instead of waiting for a large-scale capital program, the university should try to get lawmakers to sponsor a bill specifically to support this project.

“I don't know if that's the way, but we've gone the route of 'we trust you,'” putting it in the bill, and “that hasn't worked in 10 years,” Donahue said after the meeting.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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