University News

FY20 Illinois Legislative Appropriations Testimony

President Jack Thomas - May 2, 2019 (House) & May 9, 2019 (Senate)

Good morning and thank you Chairman Manar, Minority Spokesman McConchie, and members of the Committee. I am Jack Thomas, President of Western Illinois University, and with me today are Dr. Bill Polley, Vice President for Administrative Services, Letisha Trepac, Budget Director, and Dr. Joe Rives, Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Initiatives. I would also like to recognize the Mayor of Macomb, Mike Inman, and a faculty member, Dr. Tim Roberts who are here with us today.

Let me start by thanking you for your past support of public higher education and, specifically, Western Illinois University.  We appreciate the timely appropriation last year, funding of the MAP grant program, and the creation of the AIM High program which will provide more financial aid to students to stay in Illinois.  We are grateful as well for the funds appropriated to IBHE for critical capital improvements that will alleviate a small portion of our $500 million deferred maintenance needs by helping us to repair instructional building roofs, replace a chiller, and work on our water piping system.  Lastly, I was grateful to be able to participate in my first capital hearing since I became President in 2011.  I am hopeful at the prospect of a new Statewide Construction program to fund vertical construction projects, which are desperately needed.  The last State funded building on our Macomb campus was appropriated in 1975 and opened on September 5th, 1978.  The average age of the State buildings in Macomb is 60 years old. We are still waiting on the funding to be released for our Center for the Performing Arts. We have had two ground breakings some years ago for this building.

Last September, our (former) Board of Trustees voted to request a $17.2 million increase (36.5%) over our FY19 appropriation, for a total request of $64.5 Million. As we sit in front of you today, we are aware of the fiscal condition of the State and request adequate and appropriate funding for our operations. 

The Governor’s budget recommendation of a 5% increase for the public universities would equate to approximately $2.4 million more than what was received last year, but would be $1.9 million less than what we received in fiscal year 15.  This amount would be used toward sustaining current operations including deferred maintenance needs, increasing student financial aid, and mitigating the recent loss of income.  Any increase in state appropriation would be greatly appreciated. 

Over the past several years, Western Illinois University has taken multiple steps in order to adjust to diminishing financial resources from both 1) the Budget Impasse; and 2) the reduction in operational funding from fiscal year 2002 until today.   Western Illinois University has again recently issued layoffs and is planning for further reductions to bring our budgeted expenditures in line with our expected revenue.  This includes an overall budget reduction target of over $20 million.  Because personnel costs constitute the majority of our expenses, this results in a loss of jobs spanning across many departments throughout the University. 

Please note, assuming the University has level new student enrollment for Fall of 20, we would need an additional $8 to $10 million in state appropriations added to the current appropriation level ($47.2 million) in order for us to break-even in fiscal year 20.  This includes moving forward with reductions the University has already identified.

Despite these challenges, I would like to share some of the good things that are happening at Western Illinois University. These accomplishments are based on the transformational educational experience that Western Illinois University provides and supports.

Academic excellence is demonstrated on our campuses and in distance education. Recently, we learned that our Physics Masters Program ranks first in the nation on the American Physical Society's list of the average number of master's degrees awarded per year between 2015-2017. We were recognized once again by U.S. News & World Report for excellence in online education, ranking in the top 25% of institutions from across the United States in the 2019 “Best Online Programs: Bachelor’s” category.  In addition, Western has been identified as a “Best Midwestern University” by U.S. News and World Report for 14 consecutive years, and for 15 consecutive years, Western has been named a “Best Midwestern College” by The Princeton Review. We have also been named as a “Best Bang for the Buck” Midwestern school, and as one of the top master's degree granting institutions in the nation by the Washington Monthly.

Similarly, the following accomplishments exemplify Western’s values and highlight the transformational educational experience we provide:

  • Our Engineering graduates achieved a 100% pass rate on the Fundamentals of Engineering (certification) examination.
  • Nursing graduates, with a near perfect NCLEX pass rate, have a 100% job placement rate.
  • Speech Pathology and Audiology graduates earned a 100% pass rate on the graduate licensure examination and 100% of these graduates obtaining employment within three months of graduation
  • Our Honors program has doubled in the past 8 years and is over 1,000 students, while maintaining the highest of standards and positioning honors students to compete for prestigious awards and scholarships at the national level.
  • Last year, one of our students (junior Nissi Smith, from South Holland) won the Musical Theatre Intensive category at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, DC, winning over 17 other national finalists.
  • And senior Mariah Dicksen, a biology major from Lockport (IL), has been named a winner in the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.  Western has enjoyed having three Goldwater Scholars over the years – but she is the first female.  Dicksen is one of only 14 college students in Illinois named a recipient of this prestigious national scholarship, and one of only four students from Illinois public higher education institutions.

Western Illinois University’s signature academic programs, some of which are unique to WIU and are considered some of the best programs in the nation, include: Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, which is the fourth largest program in the country, sports broadcasting, which is the only sports broadcasting production program in the state, cyber security, forensic chemistry, supply chain management, agriculture, accountancy, musical theatre, recreation, park and tourism administration, and other outstanding programs.

Western is also known for being dedicated to serving our military members and has earned the distinction as a “Best for Vets College” by Military Times EDGE magazine, as a “Military Friendly Institution” by GI Jobs Magazine, and ranks in the top 20% of all colleges and universities in the nation serving veterans and service members.

We serve a diverse student population and provide outstanding services for minority, low-income and first generation students. 50 percent of our undergraduate students are PELL Grant eligible. 38 percent of our undergraduate students receive MAP funding and in fiscal year 18, over $30 million dollars in Pell and MAP grants were awarded to undergraduate students. 53 percent of the 2018 incoming freshmen class were from a minority demographic and 39 percent are first generation college students.

We take great pride in our commitment to student, faculty, and staff diversity in its broadest sense. This University is a reflection of the diverse world in which we live and the contracts we establish should mirror that diversity as well. This month, we held a Diverse & Small Business Opportunity Fair on the Macomb campus to form connections with new vendors to foster growth, new business opportunities, and to enhance WIU's Commitment to Diversity. We value seeking procurement contracts with diverse, veteran, and small business owners.

We also strive to provide an affordable and world-class education. Among the 12 public universities in Illinois, Western Illinois University has the second most affordable tuition rate and is the only public university to maintain a cost guarantee not only for tuition and fees, but also for room and board for both undergraduate and graduate students where students pay the same cost for 4 consecutive years.

Approximately 80 percent of all full-time undergraduate students who attend WIU receive assistance though loans, scholarships, tuition waivers, grants, and/ or employment, which equate to a total of $131 million dollars a year in assistance. The Western Commitment Scholarship provides qualified students with automatic scholarships, which are based on students’ GPA and ACT or SAT scores. The higher the GPA and test score, the greater the automatic scholarship offering. We provide considerable financial incentives for the best and brightest in our state to remain in Illinois.

Because of our commitment to affordability, we reduced tuition by 3% for undergraduates from FY16 and tuition, fees, room and board have remained level since that time. 

Valuing educational opportunity, Western Illinois University's Promise Plus program, significantly reduces or offsets tuition and fees, and other costs – room, meal plan, books and course materials – for new freshmen enrolling in Fall 2019. We are pleased that Illinois has invested in the AIM High Program and believe that it will increase overall Illinois college student retention and enrollment, improve Illinois college affordability and reduce student loan debt. We are using AIM HIGH funds to recruit incoming Illinois freshmen students, with an emphasis on keeping students in Illinois and greatly reducing or eliminating the financial barriers for low- and middle-income Illinois families.  Western's Promise Plus program, the AIM High Grants and our unique cost guarantee, which locks in tuition, fees, room and board rates, provide access to an affordable and world-class education for the citizens of Illinois. 

And finally, in order to help be part of the solution to the teacher shortage in Illinois – especially in rural Illinois – we have a new scholarship program supported by local businesses that is already offering scholarships to incoming students who wish to pursue a teaching career in our region.   Additionally, just this week, we were able to document that at an elderly alumni’s planned estate giving, we will be receiving approximately $2 million for our teacher education program to structure a scholarship program to assist in recruiting students to our College of Education and Human Services. This is in addition to the $1 million he has already donated, for a total endowment of $3 million to provide approximately $130,000 - $140,000 annually for scholarships for teacher education.

Education transforms lives for the better and is a proven pathway to upward mobility.  We respectfully ask for appropriate FY20 funding that will allow us to continue our mission of educating our greatest asset in Illinois, our citizens. 

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 might have.