The presidents and trustee chairs from each of the nine public universities in the state of Illinois met with legislative leaders last week in an effort to garner support for higher education funding in the state’s budget for the fiscal year 2016.
The day of meetings was arranged by University of Illinois President Timothy L. Killeen to propose the idea that funding cuts to public universities in the state could cause damage for economic growth and competitiveness for the state.
“We understand the difficult decisions that legislators face this spring to put Illinois on the road to recovery,” Killeen said. “But investing in public universities is an investment in solutions – and in the future of our state.”
Public universities in Illinois enroll almost 200,000 students each year and send around 50,000 graduates into the workforce, the presidents and board chairs wrote in a letter that was shared last week with the General Assembly. As such, the letter claims these schools act as “incubators of human capital” that improve progress in Illinois, writes Julie Wurth for The News-Gazette.
The letter went on to include the results of a recent Economic Policy Institute study which found that high-wage states are, on average, made up of states with a better-educated workforce. The US Department of Labor reported in 2014 that workers who hold a bachelor’s degree earn 65% more than those who only have a high school diploma. For those with a master’s degree, the earnings gap is almost double, and around 140% more for those with a doctoral or professional degree.
Officials for higher education in the state also claim that public universities offer a broad, liberal arts education that in turn create well-rounded citizens that help their communities after graduation.
Universities also gain state support through $1.2 billion in additional funding that in turn supports the state’s economy and works toward aiding in research-based innovations that create new businesses and jobs.
However, the budget proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner would include a $387 million cut for higher education in Illinois for the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, legislators are at work to approve a new budget.
“We must not compromise on the excellence of our institutions and of the education we provide to the citizens of Illinois through damaging and precipitous cuts in funding,” presidents and board chairs wrote in their letter to legislators. “We believe that maintaining a robust, sustained, and predictable level of state support for our universities is absolutely essential for the future wellbeing and economic prosperity of our state.”