UI Board of Trustees endorse state funding bill

UI endorses state funding bill it hopes will provide constant funding, eliminate budget crisis

The+University+of+Illinois+Board+of+Trustees+holds+its+meeting+at+the+Illini+Union+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+8%2C+2016.

Brian Bauer

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees holds its meeting at the Illini Union on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016.

By Angelica LaVito, Staff Writer

The Board of Trustees endorsed a bill that would guarantee the University state funding in exchange for meeting certain targets at its meeting Thursday.

President Timothy Killeen worked with the state legislature’s U of I caucus to draft the bill, which is referred to as the University of Illinois Investment, Performance and Accountability Commitment, to provide the University with stable funding.

The current system allows the state to adjust funding with each budget negotiation, which has put the University in the middle of a budget impasse that has paralyzed Springfield for the past two years.

“Well as you’ve noticed, it’s been a year-to-year uncertainty that’s crept in with the budget and that’s very difficult to plan and execute a high-performing approach to a public institution of this complexity and excellence,” Killeen said. “We would like to get a more predictable envelope on our budget so we can plan and implement in a more considerate, effective fashion instead of jumping from crisis to crisis, which has been the situation for the last couple years.”

If the bill passes, it will last for five years, and the state will be required to appropriate $662.1 million in fiscal year 2018 and at least that amount plus inflation in each of the remaining 4 years. This would be true only if the University meets its targets, all of which the University is already meeting.

One target would require the University to enroll at least 27,300 Illinois residents, and Illinois students to be at least half of all future on-campus undergraduate enrollment growth. More than 80 percent of current undergraduates at the University’s three campuses are Illinois residents.

Another target would require the University to maintain an 87 percent freshman retention rate. The current rate is 89 percent. The national average is 72 percent.

It would also require the University to maintain a 72 percent graduation rate. The University’s current rate is 76 percent, and the national average is 60 percent.

The annual reports would be made available online. If the targets are not met, the state could decrease funding. 

The University would commit to set aside at least 12.5 percent, totaling $83 million, of annual appropriation for need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduates. In addition to that amount, the University would commit to providing at least $15 million in financial aid per year for underrepresented groups in the state, including minorities, students from underrepresented geographic areas and impoverished students.

Though the University would provide only need-based financial aid that tends to exclude middle-class families, Killeen thinks the University’s commitment to increasing tuition only to adjust for inflation for five years as required in the bill would provide relief for those families.

“That commitment to the predictable, low inflationary over five, seven, eight years is an extraordinary commitment from a flagship public university that’s ranked as highly as we are,” Killeen said.

The proposed bill includes only the University of Illinois, but Killeen considers it a template that other universities could adapt to. Members of the U of I caucus lauded the bill as a roadmap for bipartisan legislation in Springfield.

“I think anyone who’s paid any attention to what’s happened in Springfield the last couple years understands that there’s been a drought in bipartisanship,” Sen. Bill Cunningham, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said. “Hopefully this initiative helps to end that. This is a proposal that has support on both sides of the aisle and is something that will clearly make not only the University of Illinois stronger, but the entire state stronger.”

Cunningham said the biggest three complaints he receives about the University are that students with good grades and test scores cannot get in, that tuition is too high and that minority enrollment rates are too low. He said the bill attempts to address all three concerns.

Rep. Michael Zalewski, who filed the bill in the House on Nov. 9, thinks the in-state residency requirement will be a selling point in Congress. The 50 percent benchmark falls 30 percent below the current rate.

The legislation must pass in the General Assembly after a bitter campaign season. Lawmakers will return to Springfield on Tuesday for veto session, where Zalewski plans to share the initiative with his colleagues.

Board of Trustees confirm Wilson’s appointment

Barbara Wilson officially has a permanent position.

The Board of Trustees confirmed Barbara Wilson’s appointment as the Executive Vice President and Vice President of Academic Affairs at its meeting at UIC on Thursday. Wilson has served as the interim executive vice president since October after serving as U of I’s Interim Chancellor since Aug. 2015.

Wilson’s role is newly restructured, and she will be responsible for defining and shaping academic priorities and leading budget and planning initiatives for the University. She will earn $450,000 in her new role, and she will maintain her position as a professor in the Department of Communication.

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