he state of Illinois has been stuck in budgetary trench warfare for months, and this has prompted talk of serious cuts in its public colleges and universities. This week it’s the accrediting agency who’s raising the sacrifice specter.
What’s in the realm of possibility: “the state budget crisis forces [some such institutions] to close.” It’s a kind of disaster preparation, but with the emergency being made by legislators, not Gaia. See, “[c]olleges and universities have been running without operating dollars from the state since July 1”.
In a letter sent Thursday to the state’s 57 public schools, the Higher Learning Commission said that any institution that believes it may close in the next several months must explain how it will ensure that students can continue their education elsewhere, receive transcripts and advising and get timely information about closure decisions.
All schools were asked to provide, by Feb. 18, basic financial and enrollment information, including the current cash situation, cuts in faculty and staff, and expectations for fall enrollment “in light of concerns prospective students may have about the stability of higher education in the state.”
The agency will use that information to help gauge whether the schools can remain accredited.
For those of you not familiar with American higher education, that last charge – about removing accreditation – is like a neutron bomb.
The strongest example of Illinois higher ed facing the ax I’ve found is this:
Chicago State University, a mostly minority-serving institution on the city’s South Side, declared financial exigency Thursday, opening the door to fire employees — including tenured faculty — and take other extreme action to stay open. About 30 percent of the school budget comes from the state.
Please note that “financial exigency” term. If you don’t recognize it, it’s a huge red (or black) flag. As Inside Higher Ed explains,
A state of financial exigency, under guidelines of the American Association of University Professors, means that a college’s financial condition is so dire as to justify speedier elimination of faculty jobs, including tenured faculty jobs…
One report claims CSU will run out of money next month. There is a Save CSU Facebook group. Keep in mind that the Illinois governor doesn’t seem to mind if the university suffers. And don’t forget CSU is a majority black institution.
Related, if not so severe, challenges are hitting other campuses. “Thirty teachers at Western Illinois University were laid off. Hiring is on hold at Kishwaukee Community College and faculty were asked not to travel.”
funding an added expense this year as a result of the budget stalemate. Without a budget, grants awarded to low-income students were never paid and the schools are covering the cost until the money comes in. That amounts to $11 million at Western Illinois.
Overall, enrollment across the Illinois publics dropped just this semester, about 1000 students down. According to one local observer, “thousands of Illinois college students [are] consider[ing] dropping out because their financial aid is gone, some of them never to return.”. CNN actually offers a useful bit of contextual information:
The spigot [state funding] has been turned off at a time when state colleges were already tightening their belts. Many have received less and less state funding each year, and seen a decline in enrollment.
Illinois isn’t offering a queen sacrifice, but a more general form of cutting. While enrollment shortfalls are involved, they aren’t driving the slashing. It’s state politics that’s the main engine.
For a little historical context, I first posted about governor Rauner’s budget pressure on higher ed last February.