State funding gap to widen

By Eric Krol

An examination of the way higher education is funded in Illinois reveals the rich get richer and the poor remain on a steady course.

The University of Illinois system receives the largest amount of state money each year among state systems, and according to state higher education officials, the funding gap between U of I and other schools will continue to widen.

NIU President John La Tourette said the state funds education on an incremental basis on an enrollment basis. NIU has an enrollment of about 24,000 compared to about 64,000 U of I students.

U of I has campuses in Champaign-Urbana, Chicago and a medical school in Rockford.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said the state uses across-the-board percentage increases in funding universities. This causes the difference in levels of funding to widen.

For example, if the NIU and U of I systems were each to receive a 5 percent funding increase, the actual amount given to U of I, which has a budget of about $700 million, would be larger than the amount awarded NIU, which has a budget of around $120 million.

U of I starts with a larger base budget, causing the disparity, Groves said.

Data taken from Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) figures shows the U of I system receives $513 million in state tax money. The money is divided approximately evenly between the Champaign-Urbana and Chicago campuses.

This is a greater amount than the $156 million allocated to the Board of Regents, which includes NIU, and the $139 million going to the Board of Governors, which consists of five schools including Eastern Illinois University at Charleston and Chicago State University. It is also greater than the $165 million for Southern Illinois University.

There are other reasons for the U of I funding advantage. IBHE deputy director Ross Hodel said U of I runs many state-wide programs such as a cooperative agricultural service and a juvenile services program.

U of I has also landed several major projects such as the supercomputer, a microelectronics project and much work in the area of scientific research, Hodel said.

In addition, the Urbana campus has medical centers in Rockford and Peoria and the Chicago campus has the downtown hospital, said Governor’s Assistant for Education Mary Ann Louderback.

Another reason for the funding gap is the difference in educational programs offered at each university. Hodel said U of I has the widest mix of programs, including professional programs such as a law school, and medical school.

Hodel rejected the claim of critics who say U of I is “disproportionately funded.”

“I suggest that they look closely at the mix of educational programs,” Hodel said.

La Tourette agreed, but said U of I is disproportionately funded when it comes to state money for research and public service.

He said 25 percent of the U of I budget is for research and public service, while only 12 percent of NIU’s budget is for those two areas.

“In effect, U of I has been designated as the research university. Should U of I be the only institution involved in public service?” La Tourette said.

He said NIU should receive more money for public service because of its close proximity to Chicago.

Groves said U of I is not necessarily disproportionately funded. He pointed toward the school’s rapid growth in the late 1960s and the heavy political support which followed as reasons for its large appropriation.

“It has just kind of snowballed,” La Tourette said.

Due to the bleak state financial picture, starting new programs is not going to be a way to try and balance the scales. New programs require vast resource commitments, Hodel said.

“Obviously, everybody would like to have more money,” Hodel said. However, universities are going to have to prioritize themselves to meet IBHE priorities, he added.

La Tourette said the state might consider a funding method used by Ohio, which provides equal support for students at each public universities.

In other words, he said, a student attending one university would receive the same amount of state support as a student at another state public school.

La Tourette said NIU and other schools are going to be forced to look at outside funding sources.