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Illinois Commission Finds Public Universities Underfunded by $1.4 Billion, Proposes New Funding Formula

A groundbreaking report highlights a $1.4 billion underfunding of Illinois public universities, proposing a strategic increase in state funding.

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Muhammad Jawad
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Illinois Commission Finds Public Universities Underfunded by $1.4 Billion, Proposes New Funding Formula

Illinois Commission Finds Public Universities Underfunded by $1.4 Billion, Proposes New Funding Formula

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois - A groundbreaking report by the Commission on Equitable Public University Funding, released Wednesday, sheds light on the substantial underfunding of Illinois public universities, quantifying the gap at approximately $1.4 billion. The commission, comprising 34 members including legislators, public university representatives, and advocacy organizations, advocates for an increase of $100 million to $135 million in annual state funding to close this gap within 10 to 15 years.

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Identifying the Funding Disparity

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, co-chair of the commission, emphasized the detrimental effects of underfunding on educational equity and student success. The commission's findings highlight a vicious cycle where students from affluent backgrounds enjoy superior educational opportunities, leaving others behind. Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and commission member, pointed out the decline in state funding for operational costs from 72% in 2002 to 35% in 2021, exacerbating college inaccessibility and systemic income inequality.

Strategic Investments and the Road Ahead

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Despite increased higher education funding under Governor Pritzker's administration, particularly for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, the commission insists that more comprehensive action is necessary. The proposed funding formula, inspired by the state's K-12 Evidence-Based Funding model, aims to establish funding adequacy targets for each university. Robin Steans, president of Advance Illinois and commission member, underscored the importance of a strategic investment roadmap for enhancing equity in higher education. The commission explored various models, including those from Tennessee and California, to develop this tailored approach.

Implications for the Future of Higher Education

The commission's report, set to inform forthcoming subject matter hearings, outlines three potential timelines for achieving full funding adequacy for public universities. The most ambitious scenario suggests a 12% increase in funding, or $135 million annually, could realize this goal in a decade. Governor Pritzker's proposed budget for fiscal year 2025, however, falls short of these recommendations, offering a modest increase of $24.6 million. This pivotal moment in Illinois higher education presents an opportunity to recalibrate investment priorities and foster a more equitable and accessible learning environment for all students.

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