House, Senate Appropriations Testimony
April 10, 2014
MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas recently presented budget-related testimony before the Illinois House and Senate Appropriations Committees to urge legislators for greater support of, and funding for, higher education. Thomas and other University leaders appeared before the Senate March 5 and the House April 9.
"I am pleased to share the budget testimony for Western Illinois University," Thomas said at both hearings. "Given the financial constraints that we all face, we understand the difficult task before this committee as you discern the best uses of scarce resources. We stand ready to be partners in the economic recovery of this state."
Prior to discussing Western's Fiscal Year 2015 budget requests before both committees, Thomas shared recent accomplishments, including Western's longstanding rankings in U.S.News and World Report, the Princeton Review, Military Times EDGE Magazine and GI Jobs Magazine. Thomas also highlighted the University's improved retention rates and students' academic standing.
"Higher education can serve as an economic engine for the State of Illinois. Universities have the intellectual capital to educate the next generation of citizens, but we must protect the ability for us to deliver that education to all of our citizens," he said. "Western Illinois University considers affordability central to our mission. Our education model demonstrates this commitment to student success, and we appreciate the support the state provides us in meeting those goals."
Thomas stressed that continuing delays in reimbursements, as well as possible decreases to FY'15 state appropriations, make planning for the future "extremely difficult" and has resulted in implementing numerous cost-cutting measures. The state currently owes WIU $19 million for FY'14 and another $6.1 million in MAP funding. Western's current deferred maintenance backlog is more than $460 million. Without state support, the University must use tuition and fee increases to renovate buildings and maintain its infrastructure.
"In order to maintain the quality education we provide, we have had to make cuts that include overall budget reductions, strategic hiring reviews and holds on open positions, and reduction in travel. Over the last four years, the number of employees at Western has dropped by more than 4.8 percent. These reductions in the work force were necessary to ensure our long-term viability. However, the reductions come with consequences to our students and to the employment levels of our region."
Thomas pointed out that the Western's general revenue support from the state has decreased by 22 percent ($11.6 million) in the last 12 years, yet the demand for the University to provide more resources continues to grow.
"There is significant concern surrounding educational affordability for our students," he added. "There is increased pressure from surrounding states in the recruitment of our students, and Illinois now ranks 49th out of 50 states in the number of students who leave the state for higher education."
While Thomas noted that given the state's current fiscal situation, the University hopes to obtain funding for contractual salary obligations, critical deferred maintenance, student financial aid for academically-talented students with high financial need and Quad Cities campus operations. Thomas also stressed the need to support capital projects that were funded with the 2009 capital bill, including the construction of the Center for the Performing Arts on the Macomb campus.
"We are asking your support to assist in moving this project forward," Thomas said "This project will bring more than 400 construction jobs to the area, and will greatly enhance our fine arts program."
The complete committee(s) testimony can be found at wiu.edu/news/lecture_archive/fy15testimony.php.
Prior to the testimony, Thomas and the President's Leadership Team delivered special budget presentations for the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses Jan. 23. The PowerPoint presented at the Jan. 23 session and a "Frequently Asked Questions" document can be viewed at wiu.edu/Budget/news.