Metro-East News

Fallout from state budget fight: SIUE sports cuts, rising tuition

Belleville East principal Jason Karstens speaks with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as they tour the campus with students during Rauner's visit Thursday at Belleville East High School. Rauner spoke to students about school funding.
Belleville East principal Jason Karstens speaks with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as they tour the campus with students during Rauner's visit Thursday at Belleville East High School. Rauner spoke to students about school funding. News-Democrat file photo

Gov. Bruce Rauner once again is calling for deep cuts in state funding for higher education — with the latest cuts being eliminating two varsity sports at SIUE — showing how tempting a target universities continue to be for a state desperate to get its budget under control.

Rauner proposed a 20 percent trim for the 2016-17 fiscal year in his budget blueprint this month — down from a 30 percent cut he proposed last year. But the number is largely theoretical, since Rauner and Democratic leaders still haven’t agreed on a budget for the current fiscal year, which means the campuses haven’t received any money in months.

It would be one of the largest pools of long-term funding available to cut if the state doesn’t raise revenues, and the situation leaves public universities scrambling to cover costs.

The political standoff between Rauner and the state legislature is having negative consequences on public higher education as the state enters its ninth month without a budget and colleges and universities continue to go without funding. The governor in recent days has been visiting high schools around the state, including Belleville High School East last week, telling students there is no need to cut school funding at the high school and grade school levels.

At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the administration already cut its budget by 9 percent in anticipation of cuts from the state. Rauner’s latest cut would mean another 11 percent.

On Sunday, SIUE announced that it would cut its intercollegiate athletic programs from 18 to 16, effective at the end of this semester. Men’s tennis and women’s golf will be discontinued, impacting 16 student athletes currently on the rosters. The move is expected to save $200,000 in the athletics budget.

Jason Coomer, head coach for the men’s tennis team, will continue as senior associate director of athletics and sport supervisor for women’s tennis. Derrick Brown, director of the golf program, will continue on with the men’s team.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions that we have ever made as a department, because it impacts the lives of current student-athletes,” said Brad Hewitt, SIUE director of athletics. “However, it became readily apparent that with the declining state appropriation and the university’s defined approach to managing that budget issue, we would not be able to continue to fund and support 18 sport programs at a level that is consistent with this department’s culture.”

All students who are attending SIUE on scholarship with either program will be able to continue. Scholarships will be honored through their senior year.

This is one of the most difficult decisions that we have ever made as a department, because it impacts the lives of current student-athletes. However, it became readily apparent that with the declining state appropriation and the university’s defined approach to managing that budget issue, we would not be able to continue to fund and support 18 sport programs at a level that is consistent with this department’s culture.

Brad Hewitt, SIUE director of athletics

That’s a relief for Molly Marcum, 21, from Leroy, Ill. Marcum is a senior with a double major in English and mass communications, and attends SIUE on a golf scholarship. She began playing golf as a high school freshman largely to get involved, and has played for SIUE throughout her college education.

Marcum said she was relieved the school will honor the scholarships. “As terrible as the situation is, I think they are taking care of everyone better than any of us could have imagined,” she said. “They’re keeping their promises to us.”

Marcum said she and her teammates recognized that it was a hard decision for the school, and there are more hard decisions to be made: For student athletes who intended to play professionally after college, they have chosen this school and these people, and now will have to decide whether to stay without playing, or go somewhere else where they can play their chosen sport. For those students, she said, they have “put their eggs in one basket.”

“We all have such great goals and good intentions with everything we’re trying to do, but life gets in the way,” Marcum said. “Working together as a team is really the only way we’re going to make it through, whether it’s team members or the legislators.”

Still, Marcum said, she has enjoyed playing for SIUE and said all the teams feel for each other in the wake of the cuts. “If I had to choose this all over again, knowing how it would turn out, I would still choose SIUE, for the culture and the people,” she said.

Hewitt said every sport program was researched in areas such as financial impact; academics and student services; alumni, community and donor engagement; media generated; high school participation numbers, and recent NCAA Division I competitive performance.

“We realized that across the board cuts would significantly and negatively impact our department culture, and we strongly believe our culture is the key to our program’s ability to not just survive, but to thrive,” Hewitt said. “The conclusion is that the reduction of men’s tennis and women’s golf provided the necessary financial relief with the least amount of negative impact on the department.”

The SIUE men’s tennis program started in 1974 and is best known for winning seven consecutive NCAA Division II Championships between 1978 and 1984. The SIUE women’s golf program began its first season of competition during the 1998-99 season. Currently the women’s team has the best competition record in SIUE’s history, Marcum said.

The athletic cuts are the most apparent, but other issues are pending for SIUE. Interim Chancellor Stephen Hansen said last week SIUE would actually see a deeper cut than other universities — $12.9 million, or 22 percent — because Rauner’s propsed budget would eliminate funding for the School of Pharmacy, one of only three pharmacy schools in the state and the only one outside Chicago.

“I wish I could offer something more specific or reassuring about when this crisis will end, but I can’t,” Hansen wrote in a message to students. Hansen was to give a presentation called “The Road Map Ahead” last week to students and faculty on SIUE’s financial situation, but it was postponed due to a snowstorm.

Hansen takes emailed questions from students and answers them in a weekly email to the university community. When students wrote to Hansen and asked what can be done, Hansen encouraged them all to contact the governor and legislators. The students replied that it would be “useless.”

“There are 2,400 employees and over 14,000 students at SIUE,” Hansen replied. “We are citizens and voters, and our voices need to be heard. If we speak up, then my answer will not be useless. It is time for all of us to take action.”

Universities seeking fiscal direction

Even the University of Illinois, which has more resources than other campuses, is pleading for some kind of certainty going forward. In a letter to Rauner earlier this month, President Timothy Killeen pitched the idea of a multi-year budget for the university and highlighted all the sacrifices the school has already made.

“Those are high numbers,” Killeen told The AP, referring to the latest proposed cuts. “And we don’t believe they properly reflect the important role that higher education, public higher education, plays in the state of Illinois.”

Elsewhere in the state, Eastern Illinois University has laid off 200 employees and Western Illinois will lay off 100. Chicago State University told all 900 employees they could be laid off, though no action is expected for at least 60 days. The school also called off spring break and moved up the end of the school year to try to stretch its money, but it'll still run out of money at the end of March.

According to SIU President Randy Dunn, the SIU system is surviving the budget impasse by using reserve funds, borrowing from special accounts such as grants and contracts, pulling cash from revenue-generating accounts for general operations, slowing vendor payments and halting discretionary spending. Employees are being paid.

But Dunn has warned that these are stopgap measures. Money from those special accounts cannot be used for general operations long-term. The funds will have to be repaid, and the vendors will expect their checks.

Schools also have been covering the expense of the state MAP grants for lower-income students, which can be as significant as the federal Pell grants in covering tuition and fees for students. Approximately 2,900 of SIUE’s students receive MAP grants, to the tune of $8 million a year. SIUE extended credit for those MAP grants that had already been promised to students this year, although the reimbursement from the state was vetoed last week by Rauner.

Some colleges are more dependent on state money than others.

While the University of Illinois receives about 11 percent of its budget from state funding, Chicago State, which caters to a low-income, predominantly black population on the city’s south side, gets about 30 percent from the state.

Community colleges may get about 10 percent of their budgets from the state. However, they also receive money through local property taxes, while public universities do not. Lewis & Clark Community College, which has campuses in Godfrey and Edwardsville, receives approximately $6.1 million from the state each year, or 20 percent of its operating budget. Numbers for Southwestern Illinois College were not immediately available.

But overall the amount of money the state has paid to universities has severely declined. In 2002, state funding provided 72 percent of the budget for SIUE. By 2015, it was down to 40 percent, with the loss of one-sixth of its funding since 2010.

That loss of state money has not been replaced by other revenues. We simply cannot raise tuition and fees enough, nor can we solve the problem by simply packing more students into the classroom. That would impact the quality of the education we are providing.

Stephen Hansen, SIUE interim chancellor

Some schools rely heavily on tuition, while others have significant alumni donations. While U of I has cash reserves to cover salaries and grants for the forseeable future, Chicago State is likely to run out of money in March. Hansen has said SIUE has at least enough to make it through this fiscal year, ending in June, and Dunn has said none of the system’s campuses are yet in danger of closing.

“That loss of state money has not been replaced by other revenues,” Hansen said recently. “We simply cannot raise tuition and fees enough, nor can we solve the problem by simply packing more students into the classroom. That would impact the quality of the education we are providing.”

Universities may be seen as a more likely target for cuts because they have another funding resource: tuition. But tuition has already increased significantly over the past decade, partly in response to diminished support from state governments.

The cost of four years on campus at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana now tops $100,000, and thus the school has decided to keep tuition flat for the second year in a row. SIUE’s current cost for four years is $77,192, assuming on-campus housing throughout four years, according to its website. It is currently the lowest-cost four-year college in Illinois.

But raising tuition can’t be the only answer, according to SIUE administrators past and present. When testifying on the issue before a state Senate committee last year, former SIUE Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe told the legislators that in order to meet Rauner’s original cut of 30 percent, they would have to increase tuition by 112 percent.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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