UI System requests 2021 budget increase

By Michael Caruso, Staff Writer

The University Board of Trustees has requested a budget of $697.3 million for the 2021 Fiscal Year. This marks an increase of $75.3 million, or 12.1%, compared to the 2020 fiscal year budget, according to a press release from the University Board. 

“This is the first step in the budgeting process. The request is submitted for consideration by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the governor and the legislature,” said David Mercer, assistant director of the UI System Office for University Relations. 

Tom Hardy, executive director of University Relations, said in an email that the final decision to approve the budget rests with the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

“Both were constructive, thoughtful partners who showed their appreciation for the value of what our universities provide to Illinois during this year’s budgeting process,” he said. 

The University budget is primarily allocated to paying faculty and staff salaries, as well as financial aid for students and miscellaneous upgrades to University infrastructure. In particular, $10 million will be going toward financial aid for Illinois residents. Hardy said this financial aid funding would be directed toward undergraduate students who are not represented adequately at the University. The amount of financial aid has risen from $97 million in 2008 to $231 million in 2018. 

“A particular emphasis of this funding would be attracting underrepresented students, including students from counties which now send relatively few students to our three universities,” Hardy said. 

Despite the significant increase requested for the 2021 budget, it remains lower than the 2015 state funding budget when adjusted for inflation. This was achieved in part due to the two-year Illinois budget impasse from 2015 to 2017, which prevented a rise in the University’s funding for several years. 

“During the two-plus year state budget impasse, the University System and its three universities implemented a series of cost-saving initiatives and structural reforms in spending that remain today,” Hardy said. “The cost-saving measures included the reduction of non-instructional staff by almost 500 positions, more than 200 of them in the University System offices themselves.” 

The budget increase is accompanied by a capital request of $725.5 million. This capital increase will be used for repairs and upgrades across the three University campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Champaign-Urbana. At the C-U campus, $340.7 million will be dedicated to repairs and renovations for libraries, Disabilities Resources & Educational Services and a renovation for the School of Art and Design. The budget will allocate $55.6 million for constructing a new DRES building. 

The increase in budget will also be used to keep faculty salaries competitive and supplement the University System’s plan to add 450 new tenure-track faculty over the next five years.

Hardy said the University provides $17.5 billion annually for the Illinois economy and supports 171,000 jobs and producing 22,000 new graduates every year. 

“The University System is a real economic engine for the state,” he said. 

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