Higher education spared from cuts

By Eric Krol

Although several state agencies took a hit, Gov. Jim Edgar chose to spare higher education from the chopping block next year in his Tuesday budget address.

Edgar recommended funding higher education next year at the same level as this year. Higher education received about $1.6 billion this year out of the state’s total budget of $27.6 billion. NIU received about $122 million this year.

Edgar recommended a funding cut to areas such as public aid and senior citizens, which angered Chicago lawmakers. However, state higher education officials seemed relieved at Edgar’s message which would keep level funding.

Deb Smitley, spokesperson for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said the IBHE continued to support its January recommendations, but in comparison to other state entities, higher education fared well.

Smitley said the IBHE will begin working immediately at allocating Edgar’s request and will have results in two weeks.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said, “We appreciate the governor’s continued support for education and the relatively better treatment he proposes for higher education as a consequence.

“In spite of this, it must be stated that Illinois can and should do better by its college and university students than is proposed in this budget,” he added.

NIU President John La Tourette said he could not comment on Edgar’s address because he did not yet know if the outline called for making the midyear reductions permanent. “We don’t know what impact this will have,” he said.

Edgar’s message also called for a special committee to look at the “missions, programs and priorities of higher education.” The committee will be chaired by Lt. Gov. Robert Kustra and IBHE Chairman Arthur Quern and will also look at the structure of higher education. Rep. Mike Weaver, R-Ashmore, has proposed a bill which would eliminate the BOR and Board of Governors.

La Tourette said he would have plans to offer the committee, such as a proposal to allow universities to keep the tuition money they collect.

Groves said he is confident that the committee, which has a

June 1 deadline for a preliminary report, will keep in proper perspective the importance of structure compared to other priorities such as educational opportunity and minority access.

Edgar’s request is the latest step on the lengthy budget road. The state legislature will now debate the request, trying to meet the July 1 deadline and avoiding a repeat of last year’s budget stalemate.