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Senate Appropriations II Committee hears NIU testimony

March 20, 2015

statecapitolNorthern Illinois University President Doug Baker led an NIU delegation of seven administrators and students to the state capitol Thursday to provide testimony regarding the fiscal year 2016 state budget. Recognizing the state’s fiscal challenges, Baker made the case for higher education and affordability while highlighting NIU’s accomplishments and noting the potential consequences of a 31 percent budget cut.

He noted the state faces a challenging fiscal situation that will require new thinking. Baker called higher education a major force in strengthening the state’s economic prospects and communities.

The governor’s proposed FY 16 budget would provide NIU with $63.8 million—the same level of operating support the campus received in FY 1986.

President Baker put the hypothetical cut in perspective in terms of NIU’s budget, noting major cuts would be required if the proposed budget was enacted, including the potential elimination of more than 300 faculty and staff positions, which would result in reduced course offerings, program eliminations, larger classes and reduced student services.

Another area that could be negatively impacted in the event of passage of the governor’s budget proposal is institutional aid for more than 4,000 students, which totals $18 million, creating a financial hardship for many and negatively affecting retention, completion and workforce and economic development in NIU’s service region.

Student Association Vice President Raquel Chavez traveled with SA Senate Speaker Dillon Domke to the hearing to address the committee. “I would not be at Northern if my program was cut. I wouldn’t be able to go to school without the funding I’ve received,” she said. “Northern is a great place; I would hate to see students turned away due to lack of funding.”

The state already exports 16,000 students a year to schools outside of Illinois. These kinds of cuts would likely accelerate that out-migration. In short, this level of budget reduction would harm NIU’s ability to fulfill its mission to students and to the state.

Baker was asked specifically to address what a proposed $29 million budget cut would look like if proposed cuts were to be balanced through tuition alone, and he responded that it would result in a 74 percent tuition increase in that case. He did dismiss that possibility in testimony, however, citing the university’s commitment to affordability.

“The NIU Board of Trustees and administration are committed to making efforts needed to address affordability concerns,” Baker told the committee. “Our tuition is already set for next year and we have no plans to re-visit those rates.”

Northern Illinois University is ranked 30th among 539 institutions nationally on the Social Mobility Index (SMI), which compares the effectiveness of colleges and universities in advancing students of need through graduation into good careers.

“At NIU, we call this student career success, and it’s our keystone goal,” Baker said. “Students investing in an NIU education are committed to achieving fulfilling careers and being responsible citizens in our rapidly changing world, and we want to empower them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.”

The appropriations hearings are part of a long budget process in which testimony is provided to both the State Senate and House. In addition to Baker, Chavez and Domke, the following NIU administrators participated in the hearing:

  • Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman
  • Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management Eric Weldy
  • Vice President for Finance and Administration Alan Phillips
  • Assistant Vice President of Budgeting and Finance Mike Mann

Over the course of the next few months, both sides of the General Assembly will work with the governor and come to agreement on a final budget, which could look markedly different than the initial proposal. Updates will be provided on the NIU state budget website as new developments occur.

NIU is scheduled to provide testimony to the House Appropriations Committee next Thursday, March 26.