In his 2021 budget address, Governor Pritzker continued to break from his predecessors in ensuring that our state’s higher education system does not sink further into a quagmire of disinvestment, fiscal uncertainty, and public skepticism.
BY Lisa Castillo Richmond, PCC Managing Director &
Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D., PCC Executive Director
If state budgets passed under Governors Blagojevich and Ryan provided the kindling, Governor Rauner lit the flame to create a path of destruction in Illinois public higher education, from which the sector still has not recovered. Yesterday, Governor Pritzker continued to break from his predecessors in ensuring that our state’s higher education system does not sink further into a quagmire of disinvestment, fiscal uncertainty, and public skepticism.
After Illinois residents failed to pass a progressive state income tax in November, the long term fiscal outlook for the state budget was grim and the short term budgetary consequences of COVID-19 were even more alarming. In his proposal, the Governor seeks to stave off the potential disaster of a $2.6 billion shortfall in the budget through an approach that pairs the closing of corporate tax loopholes with level funding and more modest cuts.
This week’s budget news represents some cause for relief for higher education — a relatively ‘good news’ scenario considering the impacts of the pandemic, following increased investments in the sector by way of last year’s budget after years of state-level impasse and neglect. This year’s proposed budget includes a $28 million increase in funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) — the state’s need-based financial aid program — a fully-met pension obligation, and otherwise flat funding for colleges and universities. During yesterday’s budget address, the Governor rightly framed MAP as among his most pressing priorities, as college affordability was an issue in Illinois long before the pandemic added further financial hardship for students and their families.
These additional resources are acutely needed now, as many of our institutions grapple with significant enrollment declines precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis that has disproportionately impacted our state’s community college sector where far greater numbers of our Black and Latinx, and low-income college-going residents are enrolled. These enrollment declines portend an era wherein our colleges and universities will need to be more things to more people — all while being restrained by lost tuition revenues: In the pandemic’s aftermath, thousands of state residents will likely turn to these institutions to prepare for a workforce transformed by this crisis.
Additionally, these resources are critical for the increasing number of Illinois institutions that are prioritizing racial equity by reorganizing, examining, and tackling new approaches to removing institutional barriers to student success and degree completion. These college presidents and their teams are acting with urgency to identify and rectify historical inequities, while learning from their colleagues across the state and beyond. The inequities in our higher education system were not created overnight but are the manifestations of generations of subtle and overt institutional racism that affect virtually every corner of society.
As a new book that examines the role of college presidents in the struggle for Black freedom illustrates, the moral authority granted to college presidents can be used to uniquely advance the unfulfilled promise of the American Dream for those of our residents who have often been intentionally excluded from it. The provision of adequate resources, especially to the institutions that serve the bulk of our state’s Black, Latinx, and low-income students, is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition.
Learn more about the Partnership for College Completion today.