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Public Universities Begin Push For State Funding For Next Year

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — State university officials have begun their annual trek to Springfield, testifying before panels of House and Senate lawmakers about what their financial needs will be for the upcoming fiscal year.

The pattern is similar from year to year – university presidents want more money, but they know they won’t get it, and are often elated with simply flat funding along with on-time payments. Even the latter combination has been hard to come by.

Western Illinois University is asking for more money next fiscal year to combat increasing deferred maintenance and fund new programs. University president Jack Thomas says Western’s infrastructure needs updating, as do its classrooms and programs, and state funding hasn’t kept up.

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“Our budgets at Western have seen no general revenue increases in a number of years and our appropriation has been reduced by 14.6 percent since FY ’02,” Thomas told lawmakers.

Thomas says the university is requesting an 11 percent funding increase. He says the Macomb campus needs money to continue upgrading its heating plant and computer labs, which it’s largely doing through tuition and fees. The University also needs money to beef up its engineering and nursing programs.

Southern Illinois University has been through its share of hard times over the past few years, but university officials say they’re not asking for more money next fiscal year.

Some SIU faculty members went on strike last year, the university has more than 200 positions it can’t fill, but President Glenn Poshard says his institution won’t ask for much.

“The decreases that we’ve experienced in the last several years make us content with just having a flat budget,” he says.

Southern bucks the trend of other universities, many of which are asking for more. Poshard says the university is getting by as it is, but a proposal to shift more of the cost of state employee pensions to the employer would be devastating. He says cuts to Medicaid providers would also hurt, as the SIU School of Medicine serves many Medicaid patients.

Eastern Illinois University says it’s holding its own as the state continues to grapple with funding woes. EIU president William Perry, testifying before a Senate appropriations committee, says he wants an increase for his university – but only to match inflation.

“We know that it’s a constrained environment, so we made a realistic request for some increases that we think uphold the quality of what we do at Eastern,” he says.

Perry says Eastern is a good steward of whatever funds it receives, and doesn’t expect to get what he wants – but would be satisfied with level funding. Perry says proposals to shift the cost of state employee pensions onto institutions would cost his school an extra $20 million per year.

Illinois State University is calling for what it calls an “aggressive increase” in state funding for the next fiscal year.

ISU President Al Bowman told lawmakers his university is receiving less money than it did several years ago, but ISU’s costs aren’t decreasing. “The dollars the university is receiving today are less than they were in 1999,” he says. “We’ve got significant deferred maintenance issues, and we need to find a way to cover our cost increases that doesn’t continue to put these costs on the backs of our students and their families.”

Bowman is asking for a 15 percent increase in state funding over the next fiscal year. ISU also plans to increase tuition for the next school year by 6.5 percent. State universities have a tuition guarantee requirement, which means the increase would affect only incoming freshmen.

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