Metro-East News

SIU president to Senate: ‘We are not going anywhere’

SIU President Randy Dunn speaks during 2014 event.
SIU President Randy Dunn speaks during 2014 event. News-Democrat

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn told the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday that parents are now telling him that they will be sending their kids out of state due to the ongoing uncertainty of the future of Illinois universities.

Dunn’s testimony before the committee came a day after he released a budget reduction plan based on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed 20-percent reduction in university funding. The report showed that SIUE would have to cut more than $14 million, with more potential cuts possible if the state does not enact a budget before the November election. SIUE had already implemented a 9 percent cost reduction in anticipation of the fiscal 2016 budget, but the proposed budget more than doubles the cuts already made.

“We talk to parents and people coming to campus, and it’s a constant refrain that parents are concerned about having their kids attend the college, and their program closes,” Dunn said. “We are not going anywhere. SIU is not going to close. But the scope of the programs, the level of opportunity to provide to our students will be drastically scaled back.”

We are not going anywhere. SIU is not going to close. But the scope of the programs, the level of opportunity to provide to our students will be drastically scaled back.

SIU President Randy Dunn

Dunn said he hears “almost daily” from families, students and others that the state’s lack of support for public universities is leading them to go out of state for their education.

Dunn said there has always been “an established covenant” between the state and its public universities on how they are funded, and acknowledged that “the nature of that may have to change.”

But in order to survive, Dunn said, they must have some level of reliable support. “We cannot abandon state support for operations,” he said.

As far as enrollment goes, Dunn said “it’s a tale of two campuses.” Carbondale has seen declining enrollment for several years — a 4 percent decrease last year — and next year’s applications are still not where the administration would like to see them, he said. Edwardsville’s campus has seen growth of 2-3 percent a year, but even at SIUE, applications are “a little more challenged” this year than where they’ve been, he said. Dunn pointed out that SIU has the lowest tuition of any state university in Illinois.

We cannot abandon state support for operations.

SIU President Randy Dunn

“We do account a good deal of the suppression (of applications) to the uncertainty that’s taking place around the level of state support,” Dunn said.

To date, SIUE has fronted the cost of the state MAP grants to lower-income students, while the state has not issued reimbursement for the grants, which were promised to students in their aid letters last year.

Until now, SIUE has been able to weather the recession without significant layoffs. However, if the Rauner budget is approved, the proposed cuts will include layoffs. Proposed cuts include:

• $7.1 million by eliminating 137 administrative professionals and non-tenure track instructors;

• $2.2 million in deferred maintenance;

• $1.7 million in non-personnel operating expenditures;

• $283,300 by eliminating 33 graduate assistantships;

• $234,000 in library funding cuts.

Cuts would be even deeper in Carbondale, which would have to eliminate more than 180 faculty, administration and civil service positions.

If the state fails to approve a budget until the November election, Dunn said SIUE would likely have to close the East St. Louis Center and increase tuition at the Alton Dental School by 30 percent, among other changes.

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said that SIU has proven to be “an irreplaceable benefit” to the metro-east and Illinois, attracting students from Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and other states throughout the midwest.

“To destroy this great university would be ridiculous and disgraceful,” Haine said. “I will fight these cuts with every means available. Any ‘pro-growth’ agenda must maintain a commitment to the Illinois system of higher education, which has been one of the finest systems in the United States. These huge cuts are economically harmful to the metro-east and the state of Illinois, as well as harm the future of our young citizens who attend them.”

Other speakers before the Senate Appropriations Committee pointed out that one of the fastest-growing demographics of students are adult learners - people already in the work force who are trying to go back to school. One in five adults in Illinois has some college and no degree, which carries an average salary not much higher than that of a high school graduate, according to a speaker from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Adult learners, minorities, first-generation college students and other underserved populations will suffer without support from the state, according to speakers.

Representatives from the Illinois State Board of Education, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Illinois Community College Board, Capital Development Board and the Board of Higher Education were all scheduled to speak Thursday before the committee.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald