University News

Rally for Higher Education - February 8, 2017

Good Afternoon! I am Jack Thomas, President of Western Illinois University and I am joined here today with Western Illinois University’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, Ms. Cathy Early.

Let me begin my remarks by offering my appreciation to these legislators and the Illinois Board of Higher Education Chairman, Tom Cross, for their leadership and support of higher education. I also appreciate the cooperation and willingness of all the groups here today who join with me to support higher education in Illinois.

You may ask me today, why is higher education important? Well, there is a direct correlation between level of education attained, employment opportunities, and earning potential. Clearly, higher education is a driver of personal and economic prosperity; the more education one receives, the more likely one will have a satisfying career and earn higher wages. So students: keep working hard and complete your studies!

But what return does the State receive? Not only does the State receive a skilled workforce that can help attract and retain businesses to our great State, but also, education raises the collective educational level of its citizens. This, in turn, improves the general welfare of the State of Illinois. Today’s graduate of higher education translates into tomorrow’s tax-paying citizens. There are over 1 million public university alumni living and contributing to the State’s economy. For every dollar that the State invests in higher education, there is a $25 return to the economy. There is more than $50 BILLION in economic activity statewide.

As you are all aware, my colleagues and I are leading our institutions of higher education through unprecedented and uncharted times. The lack of a full FY16 and FY17 appropriation continues to have devastating impacts on our students, on our employees, and on the entire State of Illinois. We are on the verge of a complete collapse of the Illinois higher education system that is sending our intellectual capital out of the state.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education released numbers that show that, in 2015, 45% of Illinois high school seniors who attended a four-year institution went out of state for their education. This is a very sad state of affairs.

The budget impasse that continues is what I call "the crisis of confidence in the State of Illinois." Out-of-state institutions are taking this opportunity to recruit our faculty, staff, and students. The public perception of the lack of support for higher education in Illinois is having an impact on our enrollment. Our students, parents, alumni, donors, employees and community members, question the State's commitment to higher education.

We acknowledge the challenges faced by legislators in attempting to solve the State of Illinois financial struggles. 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 toward Public Higher Education as the great equalizer.

I am very optimistic about the role Higher Education plays in the economic recovery of our state. Our mission of quality education, access and affordability to the citizens of Illinois continues, despite the challenges of the current budget impasse. We respectfully ask to be reimbursed for FY16 appropriations and for adequate FY17 funding that will allow us to continue our mission of educating the State’s greatest asset, its citizens.

We do not have to make higher education great again. Despite reduced state funding and other impediments, we have remained great. I proclaim if we stay strong and together, we will rise up to higher heights. We are resilient. We are relentless. We are the future of Illinois. Thank You.