4/5/2019 1:58:00 PM U of I makes pitch for 16.5% state funding increase Added funding would help bring in faculty, increase financial aid availability
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Representatives of the University of Illinois System made their official pitch Thursday for a 16 percent budget increase to an Illinois Senate appropriations committee.
The fiscal year 2020 operating budget request is for $692.5 million, up from $594.6 million for fiscal year 2019. When adjusted for a 2.5 percent inflation rate, the number is slightly below 2015 fiscal year levels and approximately $200 million below 2010 funding, according to the university system budget presentation.
University of Illinois President Tim Killeen said the funding would support critical needs, help expand student affordability initiatives, and allow the university system to “maintain excellence of faculty and staff.” He said it would also help recruit new professors, as faculty grew by 2 percent while enrollment grew by 9 percent in recent years.
Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, asked if any of the funding increase – which is the largest percentage of any of the state’s university systems – would go to help middle-class students with high ACT scores obtain financial aid.
Killeen said one-tenth, or $10 million of the additional request, is “almost targeted on exactly that issue.” He said the AIM High program enacted under the last fiscal year budget helps state universities retain Illinois’ brightest students as well, and funding for that program is increased by 40 percent in Gov. J..B. Pritzker’s budget.
McConchie asked why $69 million of the added funding was going to faculty, and UI System Executive Vice President Barb Wilson said it is because enrollment has grown at a quicker pace than faculty.
McConchie questioned why salaries in the UI System were “markedly above” any other institution in the state, with the average salary at $146,000 at the Urbana-Champaign campus, $145,000 at UI-Chicago and $115,000 at UI-Springfield. He said Chicago State University has an $80,000 average.
“The state picks up the group health and benefit portions of this,” he said. “This leaves some of our other institutions far in the dust.”
Killeen defended the salary program and said it should be compared to other flagship programs, calling the UI System “middle of the pack” in this area for salaries offered. He added that expert faculty helps the university bring in “a billion dollars of research grants.”
“It’s important to note we’re looking at apples and oranges and pears,” he said. “We need to be seen as a world-class flagship system that is able to attract talent.”
State Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, asked Killeen about the university system’s stance on Pritzker’s proposed extension of the pension payment ramp to free up money this fiscal year for added investment in programs such as education.
Killeen said the university is aware of state fiscal issues and has several experts on staff who would be happy to give input on solving them, but he said diminishing the state investment in higher education would be “strangling the golden goose” that can help build a tax base.
“You talk about strangling the golden goose,” Rose said. “Skipping pension payments has strangled the whole state of Illinois.”
UI officials did not give a stance on the pension plan, but said the university has a team “working on this very issue.”
The UI representatives estimated the system’s statewide economic impact at $17.5 billion, with annual contributions of 171,342 jobs, a 6.4 taxpayer return on investment and a 2.2 percent contribution to the state’s gross domestic product.
The Urbana-Champaign campus enrolls 31 percent of public higher education students in the state, while UIC enrolls 19 percent and UIS enrolls 2 percent.
The presentation document shows 93 percent of UIC undergraduates stay in Illinois for employment, while 89 percent of UIS students do and 66 percent of UIUC graduates remain in the state.