Legislative Testimony

Spring, 2015
William L. Perry, President
Eastern Illinois University

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to testify on behalf of the students, staff, and faculty of Eastern Illinois University, a premier public regional university.

Eastern Illinois University is a public regional university of excellence, access, affordability, and service.

Excellence. US News ranks EIU number one in Illinois and number four among public regional universities in the 12 state Midwest region. It also ranks us number two among best public regional universities for veterans in the Midwest. National Science Foundation data rank us in the top 5% nationally for master’s universities providing students for doctoral degrees. Best College Reviews’ rankings of the 50 best study abroad programs in America placed Eastern at No. 14. The Council on Undergraduate Research has named EIU as one of 57 academic institutions recognized nationally for their exemplary participation in the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. These rankings and data are all indicators of the strength of our academic programs, the quality of our faculty, our small classes, and the personal relationships we develop with our students. The same factors lead to our well- above national average graduation and retention rates.

Access and Affordability. Forty-five percent of our students are first-generation college students. Among master’s universities, Washington Monthly ranks EIU as 59th in the nation in the economic value students receive per dollar. No other Illinois master’s university is ranked higher. In Fiscal Year 2014, our tuition and fees combined increased only 2% and in this fiscal year there was no increase in tuition and fees combined. About a third of our students transfer to EIU from community colleges. Just over a third of our new students have Pell Grants, and almost one fourth have zero expected family contribution to the cost of attendance. With respect to diversity, 18.5% of our undergraduates are African-American, and 5.4% of our undergraduates are Hispanic. We continue to strive to reflect the diversity of the state of Illinois.

Service. EIU serves the State by providing graduates prepared to participate and lead in Illinois or wherever their careers lead them. Our students, recognized by the United States President for Excellence in Community Service, provided over 140,000 hours of community service locally and regionally. By some estimates, community service has an economic value in Illinois of $24.08 an hour. Thus, not only do our students provide the intrinsic good of community service, there is an associated economic value of almost $3.4 million. Our Business Solutions Center provides counseling for small businesses in our region, and for individuals wanting to start a small business. Our programs in the arts provide enrichment for the citizens in East Central Illinois by taking the arts to the people, especially our school age children in the region.

The information above, as well as that not included in these comments for the sake of time, demonstrates that EIU continues to be a careful and good steward of the funds entrusted to us by the State and by our students and families. We perform strongly and achieve our mission of providing superior, accessible undergraduate and graduate education. Good stewardship is increasingly important in tight financial times. We recognize times are tight now, and we wish, as we always have, to be partners with the General Assembly in providing affordable, accessible, excellent higher education for the citizens of Illinois.

I understand the state budget needs to be brought into balance. I agree that every state entity has to “share the pain” that becomes necessary in budget readjustment. EIU will share the pain—we are public servants. The governor’s office has proposed a cut to appropriations of over 30% for Fiscal Year 2016 ($13.8 million for EIU). That cut is just too much to swallow in one year—it is too much all at once. To give some perspective, consider that our GRF appropriation was reduced by $10.7 million during the FY02-FY15 period. To put the current proposed cut in context, we are being asked to absorb in one year a cut equal to 130% of all the cuts we have taken over the previous thirteen years. The proposed cut would lead to:

  • Reduction of personnel budgets by $12,000,000—an impact on over 250 employees and their families,
  • A negative $30,000,000 impact on the economy of Coles County and surrounding counties (using a conservative multiplier for economic impact),
  • Increased deferred maintenance to physical plant, and
  • Larger class sizes.

I want to be clear though, that EIU’s response to a dramatic cut will NOT be a dramatic tuition increase. Our students and their families are not in a position to take on any significant increases in cost, and – quite frankly – the math just doesn’t work. We would have to raise tuition by 85% to offset a $14 million funding cut. For the population we serve, significant tuition increases would result in rapidly diminishing returns, and less access to an Eastern education.

I encourage us to reason together on the budget for FY 2016. EIU comes to the table with only one interest in mind in the negotiations: to continue excellence, access, and affordability for the students and citizens of Illinois. Can we do that with some reduction in appropriations? Yes, we can, but that reduction should be arrived at by meaningful dialogue and negotiation. I submit that EIU’s interests, the General Assembly’s interests, and interests of the Governor’s Office have significant overlap with respect to higher education and its benefit to the citizenry of Illinois. I pledge EIU’s thoughtful participation in the process of arriving at the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.