- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The state budget impasse could have “significant” consequences for the public colleges and universities in Illinois, according to a higher-education accrediting agency.

In a letter sent Thursday, the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accrediting agency for 19 states including Illinois, issued a warning to Gov. Bruce Rauner and members of the General Assembly, the (Champaign) News-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1UYjv6Y ) reported.

Schools that have to suspend operations or close because of unavailable state funding could lose their accreditation if they don’t come up with plans for their students to continue at another college, the commission warned lawmakers.

“The lack of state funding is putting Illinois colleges and universities at serious risk and jeopardizing the future of students,” commission President Barbara Gellman-Danley wrote in the letter.

Illinois’ public colleges and universities have been operating without state funding since the fiscal year began on July 1.

Without state funding in place, Chicago State University officials have said their campus could close by March 1, and both Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois universities have raised concerns about their ability to continue operations.

Also on Thursday, Gellman-Danley sent letters to all of the state’s public colleges and universities, asking them to respond by Feb. 18 with financial information.

Gellman-Danley asked the schools to explain their current cash situation and any financial challenges they’re facing with payroll, vendors other expenses. She also said she’s seeking an explanation as to how those challenges may affect classes, faculty cuts, enrollment projections and the availability of textbooks, curriculum materials or other resources.

If schools believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the coming months, they must provide a plan for their students to continue their college elsewhere, like a private university or a public university in another state, she said.

Students at schools that aren’t accredited by an agency recognized by the federal government can’t access federal financial aid.

In a report released Monday, Moody’s Investors Service said all eight of the public universities in Illinois that it rates have negative credit outlooks, adding that the current budget stalemate could have effects that reach beyond the point when political leaders agree on a new budget.

“The state budget crisis will have negative longer term effects on Illinois public universities’ credit quality, impairing reputation and competitiveness as students make enrollment decisions,” the report states.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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