Proposed budget increase pleases college officials

Proposed budget increase pleases college officials

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NORMAL - University students and community college staff are happy about some of the education-related items in governor's budget speech this week.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed several initiatives to aid higher education, including $18 million for faculty salary increases at four-year schools, $7 million more for community colleges, an $8 million increase in the financial aid Monetary Award Program and a $1,000 tuition tax credit for students who earn good grades.

Officials at Illinois State University and Heartland Community College said they were pleased to see even small increases in funding, but an ISU student leader says the tuition tax credit is the wrong way to help higher education.

"I think what Governor Blagojevich is doing is great for families paying for their education, but I just think it's the wrong way to do it," said Josh Garrison, ISU student body president.

ISU will get an increase of about $750,000, or about 1 percent, in its state funding for operating expenses, said ISU spokesman Jay Groves.

"It's small, but it's a step in the right direction," Grove said.

ISU President Al Bowman thanked the governor for proposing funding increases after year's of lean state budgets.

"Following two years of no state funding increases for public universities preceded by three fiscal years of reduced budgets, the governor's message forecasts better economic days ahead for Illinois State and for public higher education statewide," Bowman said in a prepared statement.

"An increase in fiscal year 2007 state funding would serve to complement my top priority as president - raising faculty and staff salaries," he added.

The 1.9 percent increase from last year's budget for Illinois' community college system also was good news, said Janet Hill-Gertz, spokeswoman for Heartland Community College.

"We are pleased to see an increase this period," she said. "We will discover the details in the next few weeks."

Under the governor's $90 million tuition credit plan, freshmen and sophomores at the state's public universities who maintain a B average or better would get tax credits to help cover tuition costs. The money could come from selling the state's $3.5 billion student loan portfolio to private lenders, which could net an estimated $500 million for the state.

Attaching the grade-point average requirement is a good incentive for students, but it doesn't address the overall increase in tuition, Garrison said.

Giving money as a tax credit doesn't put new money in universities' pockets, so universities will need to keep turning to tuition increases to cover their budget shortfalls, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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