Budget impasse creates fiscal cliff for higher education

We’re four months into the Illinois budget impasse, and Sen. Dave Leuchtenfeld says he doesn’t expect a deal until spring at the earliest.

If that’s true, many colleges and universities will go without funding during the spring semester.

"There can’t be these expectations that operations just continue unabated without this impasse getting solved," said SIU President Randy Dunn.

A few miles away from a Senate Higher Education Committee meeting in Carterville, Southern Illinois University Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell took over a campus much different than the one he left a decade ago.

"My job is to help turn this thing around,” said Colwell. “We’re going to work on enrollment. We’re going to do the best we can to deal with fiscal issues. We’re not going to be Pollyannaish about it. We know there are issues, but we’re going to deal with them."

Among the issues created by the budget impasse is a fiscal cliff for MAP grants, which may not be available for 7700 SIU students next semester.

"The average grant at the Carbondale campus is over $4,000,” said Dunn. “You can imagine then how critical that money is for our students."

"These are not challenges that cannot be overcome,” said Colwell. “They’re doable, but we have to work together. And it’s going to take the Carbondale community, it’s going to take Jackson County, and it’s going to take southern Illinois to pitch in."

The Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee is expected to make its recommendation later this month after a hearing at Eastern Illinois University.

Meanwhile, the president of Illinois’ nine public universities sent a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers Thursday.

It says the uncertainty over their budgets is beginning to damage their ability to teach and perform research.

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