EDWARDSVILLE — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville may be doing better than other universities in Illinois or the U.S., but it still faces budget challenges in the next few years.
Overall, states are spending 28 percent less per student in higher education than they did five years ago, according to a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Every state except North Dakota and Wyoming has cut their spending on higher education. Of those, 36 states have cut by more than 20 percent, and 11 states by more than one-third.
Illinois has cut its higher-education spending by 23.3 percent since 2008, which translates to roughly $1,425 less per student when adjusted for inflation.
In terms of operational funds, the SIU system that includes the Edwardsville campus has been cut from $248 million in 2002 to $204 million this year. SIU President Glenn Poshard estimates that next year will be another 5 percent cut, down to $194 million.
That may combine with a proposal to shift the state's share of pension funds onto the universities themselves, and an estimated $9 million loss due to the federal sequester, which would bring SIU's funding down to $175 million, Poshard said.
The state cuts have hurt the universities, Poshard said, and not just in terms of the salaries that make up 75 percent of the university budget. There have been state and federal cuts to student assistance programs for low-income families and military grants for former servicemembers, while fixed costs like electricity and health care cannot be reduced.
"No one thinks this is going to turn around, in terms of state appropriations," Poshard said. "It's the economy, it's the borrowing that has taken place that has put the pension system in jeopardy, it's all of those things. But if you look across this country, there is a different attitude about higher education."
Poshard said he believes higher education is seen as an "easy cut," because they have a second revenue source besides tax dollars: Tuition.
Nationally, tuition has grown by $1,850 or 27 percent in the last five years. Illinois is slightly below that, with 21.1 percent increase in its tuition.
But while the average Illinois student now pays $2,110 more per year than he or she would have in 2008, SIUE's entering freshman students pay only $549 more in tuition.
A student entering SIUE in 2012 paid $3,474 per semester in tuition. After the required fees and textbooks were paid, the student's cost was approximately $4,625, not including housing.
In 2008, tuition was $2,925 and rose to $3,915 after fees and books. That's an overall increase of $709, or 18.13 percent.
That has kept SIUE with the lowest tuition costs of any four-year university in the state, while the Carbondale campus has the lowest tuition among the five doctoral research universities, Poshard said.
In part, this is because the SIU board froze tuition for two years during the worst of the recession. However, tuition began to increase again in 2011, and the initial proposal for next year is a 7-percent increase that has not yet been approved by the SIU board of trustees.
"We've had to battle through this, and in our attempt to stay fiscally solid we have raised tuition," Poshard said. "But we have not raised it as much as other public universities."
In the meantime, Carbondale has eliminated more than 500 positions and both campuses have been on a "soft" hiring freeze: "As positions become available through the course of normal business, each is evaluated to determine if the position is essential to university operations," said SIUE spokesman Doug McIlhagga.
Private giving is another option, Poshard said, but the difficulty has been that when people give large amounts of money to a university, they generally designate it for student scholarships. It cannot then be diverted to university operations. Likewise, the university receives federal grants for research, but that money must be spent on that particular project.
The impact goes beyond the institutions themselves, Poshard said.
"We have replaced a lot of the abdication of the state's responsibility onto tuition, because it is the only other place we can get it," Poshard said. "But when states do this, they are undermining the entire economy of the country over the long haul... You are making it less possible for kids from moderate and low-income families to attend college. What does that do to your economy down the road? We are leaving behind so many of these kids."
In a recent "state of the university" speech, Poshard said the highest goal at SIU and at the Illinois Board of Higher Education is to make up the "attainment gap" - the difference in educational achievement and earning power between rich and poor in Illinois. Investment in higher education should be seen as an investment in a future work force and tax base, he said. He referred to a large prosperity gap in Illinois, where one group is well-educated and economically dynamic, while the other group struggles to make ends meet, lags in educational attainment and is economically stagnant -- and the gap is growing, he said.
"When you leave these kids behind, you're begging for an economy that can't support itself down the road," Poshard said. "More crime and more poverty are the result of less education, and these are things the executive branch doesn't understand."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.