With state lawmakers fresh off a major shakeup to K-12 school funding, there’s no shortage of big ideas floating around for higher education too.
Should one of the struggling public universities close? Should struggling academic majors be eliminated, or consolidated only at some campuses? Should funding be based on performance? Should boards of trustees be merged across campuses?
Illinois State University President Larry Dietz says lawmakers shouldn’t overthink it.
“All of these things are really tinkering around the edge,” Dietz said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “It’s shown time after time in other states that they don’t work. What does work is stable, reliable, and appropriate funding and investment in student aid programs that will allow students to choose the institution they want to go to.”
Dietz met last week with legislative leaders, and he was scheduled to meet with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday. He’s asking for passage of a full-year budget and an increase in Monetary Award Program (MAP) funding for lower income students. ISU's budget and MAP funding have been held hostage in recent years due to state budget stalemates.
K-12 school districts around Illinois are now operating under a new school funding plan approved last summer. That funding plan requires calculating the exact amount each district needs to supply adequate education, and comparing that to how much money the district can raise through reasonable property tax rates.
Could higher education funding be next? Several ideas have been floated in recent years, and more are being introduced. State Rep. Dan Brady and Sen. Chapin Rose, both Republicans from central Illinois, introduced legislation that would overhaul the state’s higher education system. It would create a uniform admissions application for all public schools in Illinois, among other changes. But it also proposes changes that may concern university leaders, such as ranking the quality of academic departments against similar departments at other schools.
Dietz says change is needed. He recently told state lawmakers ISU receives less state funding per full-time student than any other public university in Illinois—around $3,551 per full-time equivalent student, 45 percent lower than the state average.
ISU’s enrollment has remained relatively steady despite uncertainty over the state budget, though headcount has fallen at many other public schools. Because funding hasn’t been adjusted, that means ISU is essentially getting less per student.
“In essence it results in us being penalized for doing a really good job,” Dietz said.
Dietz has expressed support for a performance-based approach to funding, which would reward schools based more on number of Illinoisans served, retention and graduation rates. A small portion of state funding is already delivered in this way.
“There has to be some incentives built in for institutions that are really meeting the state’s needs,” Dietz said. “What we have now is an artifact of the way institutions were (funded) decades ago, when they were awarded X amount of appropriations based on a political process.”
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.