Students should follow cuts made at other universities that mirror NIU

By Kaylyn Zielinski

NIU students need to stay informed on other state universities and their changes to higher education due to state budget cuts as an example for what their future may look like.

Illinois’ eight-month budget impasse has caused college students to ask themselves how a budget cut might affect higher education in Illinois. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Fiscal Year 2016 proposed budget includes a reduction in funds to NIU’s $93 million in allocations for FY 2016 to about $64 million, according to a March 3 Northern Star article.

Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin school system. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, on its own, was hit with a $1.2 million dollar budget cut, the largest cut the university had ever seen.

“The cut, just the first year alone, would amount to the elimination of an average of 126 faculty positions, and a loss of 24,892 classroom seats – or the elimination of 152 staff and administration positions,” said Bob Nowlan, UW-Eau Claire English professor.

Similarly, because of the Illinois budget impasse, NIU still had 228 positions unfilled because of 389 terminations or retirements, and only 161 new hires for all staff at NIU as of September 2015, according to a Feb. 15 Northern Star article. The unfilled positions have led to a poor student to staff ratio at NIU which could get worse after the Illinois budget is passed. A change to the staff, student ratio happened at UW-Eau Claire in less than six months after the budget cut. Larger class sizes are an unfortunate reality of budget cuts and while some students may not notice it, this can be a telling factor in bigger changes to come such as possibly cutting academic programs.

Trace Osborn, senior history major at UW-Eau Claire, has seen a decrease in the number of classes at UW-Eau Claire, but an increase in class sizes.

“The university isn’t hiring professors for the next three years. One of my history classes last spring had 14 students in one section … this spring semester, the same class had 33 students in one section,” Osborn said.

Osborn said UW-Eau Claire students were not aware of the changes that would be occurring.

“We didn’t understand how much these changes would affect us … . It’s scary to see how much has changed that we didn’t know was coming for us,” Osborn said.

Chicago State University made similar cuts prior to the announcement of its closing after this academic year. Since January 2015, CSU has cut 10 percent of its work force.

In a Jan. 21 letter to Gov. Rauner, Thomas J. Calhoun Jr., Chicago State University president, said administrative salaries were frozen, the university did not fill vacancies and consolidated positions and academic programs.

Students should also be aware that while a comparison to UW-Eau Claire is helpful, it is not absolute. NIU is a different school from UW-Eau Claire. Students need to be more up to date with the potential changes before it is too late. By looking at the changes to class size and hiring at other schools, NIU students can know what to look out for here and how to prepare themselves.