One of Springfield’s top Republican negotiators on higher education said freeing up more money for financial aid might look easy compared to the coming debate over a new funding formula for state universities.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, is part of the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group. That group helped author several bills signed into law this summer, including a new $25 million merit-based scholarship program and more year-to-year stability for the Monetary Award Program (MAP).
The Higher Education Working Group will begin meeting this week on the new funding formula, Brady said, similar in scope to the K-12 funding revamp passed last year.
“Usually when you start tinkering with money, people’s ears perk up and they tend to get very, very testy, when something they perceive as theirs may not be there,” Brady said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.
The state budget stalemate strangled public universities, exacerbating the problem of high school students electing to leave Illinois for college.
That impasse is over, although some schools like Illinois State University have ongoing concerns about inequity in the current funding model. President Larry Dietz testified in March that ISU receives less state funding per full-time student than any other public university in Illinois, despite strong enrollment and high graduation and student-retention rates.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that can tell you historically how we got to the point we’re at now and what criteria we’re using to decide what appropriations each university gets,” Brady said.
Performance-based funding will certainly be part of that discussion, Brady said, potentially tying funding to enrollment and graduation rates. Brady said his top priority will be looking at each public university’s calling card—teacher education at ISU, or law enforcement at Western Illinois University.
“On top of their specialties, (these schools) have a smorgasbord of other classes and other degrees they offer. First off, we’ll have to have a serious look at what the numbers are in those other programs and degrees and what’s sustainable and what’s bringing those universities down,” he said.
Will Illinois continue to have nine public university systems when this process is complete?
Brady said “that’s a good question,” and that other states have consolidated campuses.
“We’ve gotta have the discussion,” he said. “Because if we don’t try to be proactive, we find ourselves being reactive, and that’s not a good position to be in for higher education in Illinois.”
Brady added: “These universities are, from an employment standpoint, business standpoint, they’re lifelines for these communities that they call home. We go changing that system—we have to be very careful what we’re doing. It’ll be as challenging or more so than the first phase of this Working Group, dealing with financial incentives and packages to try and recruit the students.”
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