University News

FY18 Illinois House Appropriations Testimony

President Jack Thomas - April 6, 2017

Good evening and thank you Chairperson Burke, Minority Spokesman Brady and members of the Committee.

I am Jack Thomas, President of Western Illinois University, and with me today are Interim Provost and Academic Vice President, Kathy Neumann, and Interim Vice President of Administrative Services, Matt Bierman.

Today, I will provide you with information about the ongoing financial situation at Western Illinois University and describe how the budget impasse is affecting our institution and the west-central Illinois region. Let me begin my remarks by offering my appreciation for your leadership and support of our last June 30, 2016 stopgap. This stopgap higher education appropriation bill authorized funds to Western Illinois University that were desperately needed and provided a much-needed confidence boost to our students, faculty, staff, parents and the region.

We appreciate the cooperation and willingness of all groups that support public higher education.

As you are aware, we are operating our University through unprecedented and unchartered times. The lack of a full FY16 and FY17 appropriations continues to have devastating impacts on our students, on our employees, on west-central Illinois and on the entire State of Illinois. We are on the verge of a complete collapse of the higher education system that is sending our intellectual capital out of the state. Many of our best and brightest faculty and staff are being actively recruited by universities across the country and are leaving our state for more stable positions in other states. In addition, in 2015, 45% of Illinois high school students who enrolled in college left the state. We can assume that the number of students leaving the state for other universities has increased since the state’s budgetary situation has deteriorated. This intellectual capital may not return to Illinois, with the effects of this loss of social capital being felt for years. It will subsequently create a void in our prepared professionals who are striving for jobs as teachers, nurses, small business owners, police officers, and others. Over the past year, Western Illinois University has been forced to institute extreme cost-saving measures. Our administrators, faculty and staff have participated in furloughs or salary reduction programs last fiscal year as well as this fiscal year. 59 employees have taken advantage of an early retirement incentive program that the University sponsored, and we were forced to lay off over 100 employees. Further personnel and curricular decisions will have to be made soon, should the University not receive a state appropriation.

Since 2011, we have combined administrative departments to achieve streamlined operations and efficiencies, decreased facilities and maintenance services, and realized attrition savings. Over the last 6 years, these measures have reduced budgetary costs by over $16 million dollars, while protecting the academic core and mission of the University.

The impasse has seriously affected Western Illinois University and the region. Western Illinois University is one of the largest employers and economic drivers in the west-central Illinois region. Western has nearly a half- billion dollar economic impact annually on our 16-county region. Because of the ongoing budget impasse businesses are closing, people are unable to sell their homes, cities are facing lower tax revenues and economic shortfalls, people are losing their jobs and poverty is increasing. The pain from this budget impasse is particularly acute in our region that lacks the economic stability and diversity of other regions in the state.

The public’s perception of the lack of support for higher education in Illinois has impacted our enrollment, which decreases our revenue. Our students, parents, alumni, donors, employees and community members, question the State’s commitment to higher education. This impact affects all of our funding streams, from appropriations, to tuition to donations. We respectfully ask that you reverse this crisis of confidence by adequately funding higher education in Illinois.

Despite these funding challenges, we continue to advance our mission and niche in providing a high quality, well-rounded educational experience to a diverse student body:

  • 89 percent of our Fall 2016 undergraduate population were Illinois residents.
  • 61 percent of our undergraduate students are PELL Grant eligible.
  • 36 percent of our undergraduate students receive MAP funding.
  • 55 percent of incoming freshmen are from a minority demographic and 42 percent are first generation college students

In March 2016, the United States Department of Education recognized Western Illinois University in the top 2% of over 2,000 colleges and universities nationally in the retention and graduation of low income students. WIU was also one of 11 colleges and universities from across the nation selected to be highlighted in the U.S. Department of Education's College Completion Toolkit. The toolkit features schools that are increasing college completion rates for students. Our Nursing Program was just recognized as one of the most affordable online BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degrees in the country and ranked number five on the list of the top 20 nationally. In October, Minority Access, Inc. presented WIU with the Commitment to Diversity award. We were among 38 colleges and universities across the US and the only Illinois public institution to receive the award.

Among the 12 public Universities in Illinois, our tuition is the third lowest.

The average student debt upon graduation is $26,700, which is lower than the national average of $37,172.

Since Western Illinois University serves many low- income and first generation students, we recognized a need to limit our tuition increases. For the Fall 2016 incoming freshman class, we lowered tuition by 3% in order to decrease the financial burdens on our students, and this past year, we decided to keep tuition level for next year. We are the only University in the state that provides the guaranteed cost structure for all student expenses, including room, board, tuition and fees for both undergraduate and graduate students. This program allows students and parents a predictable method to financially plan for their education.

We have been responsive to the needs of the state and our region as we have recently created programs in nursing, community and economic development, applied statistics and decision analytics, and mechanical engineering. All of these programs are helping to develop high-quality, college graduates for employers in Illinois.

Over the past 10 years, we have also eliminated 12 Undergraduate Degree Programs, 3 Graduate Degree Programs, 2 Undergraduate Degree Program Options, 18 Minors, 8 Pre-Professional Programs, 11 post- Baccalaureate Certificate Programs.

We continue to evaluate other academic and non- academic programs and services to ensure that we are operating with efficiency, productivity, and responsiveness to the needs of the state. Our mission of quality education, access and affordability to the citizens of Illinois, continues, despite the challenges of the current budget impasse.

We recognize that we must be good stewards of our resources, and we must find agile ways to provide the necessary programs that meet the needs of our citizens. Our signature academic programs, including Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, Forensic Chemistry, Broadcasting, Accounting, Agriculture, and others bring positive recognition not only to Western Illinois University, but to the State of Illinois. Over the last five years, we have graduated 1,994 law enforcement personnel, 1,866 teachers, 3,110 business professionals, and 149 nurses. This is only a portion of the students who graduate and become employees and taxpayers in the State of Illinois.

We acknowledge the challenges in attempting to solve the State of Illinois financial struggles. As a result, we stand ready for shared sacrifice. But, the sacrifice must be shared and the entire burden must not be placed on Illinois citizens who look to Public Higher Education as the great equalizer.

We recognize the need for budget reductions, but allow me to put these reductions in context for you. Every 10% reduction in our FY15 appropriation would mean approximately a $5 million reduction in our budget. To make up for this, it would require a 20% increase in tuition, or the reduction of 80 full time employees, or a combination of the two. In these scenarios the burden ultimately falls on our students.

However, these are not the first cuts to Western Illinois University. Since 2002, state appropriated funding has decreased by 20%. Adjusted for inflation, this percentage increases to 39%. During this timeframe, our expenses have grown less than the rate of inflation.

I am optimistic about the role Higher Education plays in the economic recovery of our state. We respectfully ask for adequate FY16 and FY17 appropriations to finish out this year and for adequate FY18 funding that will allow us to continue our mission of educating the greatest assets of Illinois, its citizens. With your financial support, we stand ready to educate current and future generations.

Again, I want to thank all of you for your support of Western Illinois University. We do appreciate your commitment to higher education and your willingness to listen. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.