Rauner’s Roundabout

I attended a presentation about the impact of Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget upon Illinois public universities this week — I am, in addition being an Illinois resident, an Illinois public university professor — and I was alarmed by the anxiety throughout the auditorium, which university administrators indicated was appropriate, even before the final details have been determined.

The Governor’s proposed state appropriation for my university hasn’t been this low since 1988, which was the year I graduated from an Illinois high school. Since then, I’ve earned three college degrees with honors, published three books, one that won a major research award, and numerous book chapters and articles, and taught college courses for nearly a quarter of a century.

At the same time, I’ve seen state appropriations decrease by millions of dollars since starting at this Illinois public university in 2002, and I’m dismayed to discover that the Governor’s proposed budget would reduce this support even more. Although he has proposed a 31.5% reduction, my university is preparing for a reduction of $6-8 million, which it intends to distribute across the entire campus.

As someone who was educated in Illinois, I am particularly proud to contribute to the education of Illinois residents, and I’ve declined invitations and opportunities to interview for positions at other universities, both private in the metro Chicago area and public in other states. Nevertheless, I’ve watched state officials attempt to resolve budget deficits at the expense of public employees, and I now see a Governor who proposes to reduce the state support even further.

The significance of our work is obvious. Research has documented the social and economic benefits of college education for individuals and states. College graduates, to cite several examples, tend to be healthier, donate more time and money, vote more often, have higher savings rates, depend less on public financial aid, and have higher employment rates and earning potential, which also means potentially more taxable income.

Moreover, these proposed reductions will affect a significant segment of Illinois residents. In 2014, more than 49,000 people received degrees from Illinois public universities, and these and the more than a million public university graduates who live throughout Illinois cannot be expected to support something that the State increasingly neglects.

Although I still believe in this work, I increasingly wonder about the commitment of Illinois to the education of its citizens, as well as to those who educate them. I obviously hope that the Illinois General Assembly will prevent this attempt to reduce support for our efforts to educate Illinois residents, which Governor Rauner, even with his proposed budget, has already made more difficult.

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