Eastern Illinois University’s legislative liaison Katie Anselment had some strong words for legislators during an Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee hearing last week.
Anselment began her testimony with a searing indictment of the current state of higher education in Illinois after the more than two-year budget impasse that caused universities to lose most of their state funding. Legislative liaisons are lobbyists, so they don’t usually go off on legislators in public, but this time was different.
Anselment said the state’s relationship with its public universities “has been a bit of a ‘Catch-22’ situation lately.” In other words, darned if they do, darned if they don’t.
“Hold the line on tuition, while we reduce your state funding,” universities are told by the state, she said.
“Focus on teaching, but pay more attention to marketing and technology,” Anselment said.
“Whittle down your programmatic offerings and don’t try to be all things to all people, but make sure your majors reflect today’s modern economy and are responsive to regional workforce needs,” she said.
“Tell us in excruciating detail just how bad of a position we’ve left you in thanks to the budget impasse, but stop the out-migration and convince more Illinois families to choose Illinois public universities.”
And then, later in her testimony, Anselment had a mic-drop moment: “At a time when public universities are being admonished to up our enrollments despite declining numbers of high school graduates, to identify and implement more efficiencies in our operations, to focus on what we do best and to consider eliminating duplicative offerings, this bill sets the stage for opening up 48 new taxpayer-funded competitors in a state that has recently proven unable to reliably support the nine universities it already has.”
That’s pretty much everything in a nutshell right there.
One of Gov. Rauner’s current big ideas is to force universities to downsize by becoming more specialized. That may be fine, I suppose, for graduate and post-graduate levels.
But how many high school kids truly know what they want to major in when they apply for college? The first year or two of college are supposed to be an exploration of possibilities. Gov. Rauner graduated from Dartmouth, which doesn’t allow students to declare a major until their sophomore year.
By forcing universities to shed undergraduate degree programs, the governor would likely narrow their ability to recruit students because their options could be too limited.
Solving most of their problems will take money, which the state currently does not have. And it will also take ingenuity, but not the kind that would actually threaten their very existence.
One day, hopefully soon, this state’s leaders will start building instead of childishly blowing stuff up. Last year’s K-12 funding reform was a decent start. Higher education ought to be next.