- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - The lack of a state budget is putting stresses on Illinois’ public universities that still aren’t receiving money from the state.

Larger schools, such as the University of Illinois and Illinois State University, are faring better than smaller schools, the Chicago Tribune reports (https://trib.in/1HnaeOy ). Measures there to cut back include positions going unfilled and construction being pushed back.

But at smaller schools where enrollment has fallen or fundraising is harder, the cutbacks include layoffs and furloughs, less funding for athletics and raiding of cash reserves. There also is concern whether universities can continue to front the cost of scholarships for low-income students that are typically paid for by the state.

Alan Phillips, chief financial officer at Northern Illinois University, said it would be “very difficult” to get through a full year without state funding.

Six Illinois universities have had their bond ratings lowered by Moody’s Investors Service because of the state’s ongoing budget impasse, making it costlier if universities decide to borrow money. The University of Illinois and Illinois State University were given negative outlooks by Moody’s, meaning their ratings could be lowered.

Illinois colleges have gone without state funding since July 1. University presidents met with state lawmakers in Springfield last month as lobbying efforts have been stepped up.

Some lawmakers hope problems at universities will lead to a push to get a state budget passed by year end. Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said that although some people are feeling pain and social service organizations are laying people off, the budget crisis has been largely “theoretical” so far.

“But if this extends to universities and community colleges, and classes start getting canceled and students are told their financial aid money is no longer there, the problem gets a lot less theoretical and a lot more real,” Cunningham said. “It’s my hope that kind of pressure forces a deal. A crisis is something we need to force action.”

The Illinois House is expected to hear testimony from college and university officials about the budget situation when lawmakers meet Tuesday in Springfield. Democrats who control the chamber have scheduled a “committee of the whole” to discuss higher education appropriations.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com


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