Higher ed hopes budget increases lead to more students, building improvements

Heartland Community College
Heartland Community College(25 News/Heart of Illinois ABC)
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 3:15 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Following mitigations, a continuing pandemic, and a changing economy, increased funding for Illinois’ higher education system may do one thing the industry is hoping for: bring more students into the classrooms.

According to information from the Illinois Community College Board, fewer students have been enrolling in community college each year since 2012. In 2020, 474,478 students enrolled in community colleges statewide. In 2021, 405,444 enrolled, resulting in a 19% decrease.

In contrast, the number of students graduating from community colleges has remained the same, averaging over 60,000 per year. That means there aren’t students enrolling to replace the number of students graduating out of the community college system.

ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham said the downward trend is a nationwide trend, caused by the economy as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. The mitigations and lack of in-person learning especially affected community colleges, which rely on hands-on learning and vocational training to draw students in.

“You’ve had kind of a downward trend for a while, from a really high peak of about 10 years ago,” Durham said.

The FY 23 budget is adding $13 million to state community college funds, a 5% increase from the previous year. They’re also expanding Monetary Award Program grants for students. MAP grants don’t need to be repaid and are available for certain eligible students. This expansion would increase who’s eligible, which ICCB hopes will draw more people into community colleges.

Under the new budget, students in smaller programs, like those offered at community colleges, would be eligible for MAP grants. That opens up financial aid for students looking to go into construction, semi-truck driving licenses, or criminal justice would be impacted. Overall, ICCB estimates over 2,000 programs would be affected by the grant eligibility. Durham hopes that will draw more students into community colleges.

“I think it has the potential to help with enrollment certainly,” ICCB Director Brian Durham said. “I think it has really great potential to help low-income students who need assistance to access college in a way they didn’t feel like they could before.”

Beyond community colleges, Illinois’ higher education system is seeing a boost in funding. For FY23, $54 million more will be allocated to public universities.

According to reports from the Civic Federation, a non-partisan, independent research organization on government finance in Illinois, the peak funding amount received for higher education in Illinois was in FY 2002. Since then, there has been a decrease in funds totaling around $1.5 billion dollars.

Additionally, the two-year budget impasse from 2015 to 2017 created another fiscal hurdle for public universities. To combat the lack of state funds, universities relied on tuition and fee increases to fund their projects, according to a report from the Lumina Foundation.

“We have reversed, and we still have more reversing to do with what happened with the last administration,” Rep. Lakesia Collins (D - Chicago) said in reference to previous Gov. Bruce Rauner, who was governor during the budget impasse. “What I see if our state moving forward in a better direction that fits all of us in the state of Illinois.”

Additionally, $434 million will be contributed from the Rebuild Illinois fund to make improvements to the university’s infrastructure. The funds will be utilized by the University of Illinois Chicago, Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

For NIU, the money will go towards roof repairs at the Music Building and Gabel Hall. Additionally, at WIU, the funds will go towards exterior and roofing repairs and at SIUC will replace an electrical feeder.

Out of the 149 projects deferred due to lack of funds, 94 were devoted to community colleges and City college of Chicago. The remaining 55 are in the universities statewide, including the University of Illinois System, Illinois State University, and Easter and Southern universities.

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