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President Thomas: Senate Appropriations Testimony [3/28/16]

March 28, 2016


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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL –- Earlier this month, Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas presented the Fiscal Year 2017 budget testimony before the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee to urge legislators to end the current budget impasse, provide support and resources for higher education and to discuss the impact of the impasse and future reductions to higher education appropriations. Thomas and other University leaders appeared before the Senate March 10.

"We are operating our University through these unprecedented and unchartered times. It is difficult to speak with you today about FY17 appropriations when we have not received FY16 appropriations. It is not just difficult, it is frustrating, and devastating. The lack of FY'16 appropriations continues to have devastating impacts on our students, on our employees, and on the State of Illinois," Thomas told the committee. "We are on the verge of a complete collapse of the higher education system. This collapse will send our intellectual capital out of the state. It will create a void in our middle class families who are striving for jobs as police officers, teachers, nurses, and small business owners. Ultimately, the demise of higher education will reduce population levels, shrink tax revenues, and increase unemployment rates, all of which will subsequently increase the financial burdens of the state. We must work together to provide an adequate funding stream to ensure that higher education is not just for those who can afford private education and to make certain that Illinois has access to an educated citizenry. If it had not been for public colleges and universities, many of us would not be here today."

Thomas added that the University's immediate concern is having enough cash to ensure the University meets its financial obligations.

"This month we will deplete our income fund of all tuition revenue and any reserves. We will then operate on the reserves from non-instructional entities. Soon, we will have to consider using statutorily restricted funds and risk credit problems just to provide basic services to our students," he said. "This is a situation in which we could not have ever predicted. We are a state University, and we are asking for your help in continuing to support public higher education so that we are able to educate the people in your districts and across the State of Illinois and beyond."

Thomas also shared that the impasse is reaching beyond WIU employees.

"Many individuals simply believe that the risk of relocating within Illinois is too great and that state universities are no longer stable employers. We are the economic engine for west central Illinois. Within our 16-county service area, WIU generates an estimated $366 million in economic output," he said. "The 'Crisis of Confidence' that we face has also had dramatic impacts on our enrollment. Our students and their parents ask 'what is Illinois doing to support education and how will it invest in our future?'

"Despite the funding problems, Western Illinois University continues to meet our mission and strives to provide access to all qualified Illinois citizens. During these difficult financial times, we recognized a need to limit our tuition increases. For the Fall 2016 cohort, we have lowered tuition by three percent in order to decrease the financial burdens on our students, and we are the only University in the state that provides the guaranteed cost structure for all student expenses, including room, board, tuition and fees. This program allows students and parents a predictable method to financially plan for their education," Thomas shared. "We know these decisions will come with sacrifice and reductions in our operations, but we continue to transform Western Illinois University into an efficient, 21st century learning environment."

Thomas' full Senate testimony can be found at http://wiu.edu/news/lecture_archive/fy17testimony.php.


Posted By: WIU News (U-Relations@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations