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Local News

Local colleges continue to struggle with uncertain state funding

JOLIET – As Illinois enters 2017 without a budget in place, higher education institutions such as Joliet Junior College continue to struggle with the uncertainty of state funding. 

JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder said the impact of the state budget impasse on the community college has been ongoing since the crisis started in 2015.

“We’re doing what we can with what we have,” she said.

The college will have discussions at a Jan. 31 board workshop meeting on ways to control costs, such as scheduling efficiency and tuition increases, she said. 

The state’s stopgap budget that was approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 30 expired Saturday. Colleges and universities, along with students, continue to struggle without a state budget in place. 

One area where students are struggling is with Monetary Award Program grants. Students will enter a second semester without them. JJC advanced more than $1 million in MAP grants last school year, but was unable to do so this year. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers MAP grants, stated in a Dec. 14 news release that funding for MAP and ISAC grants and scholarship programs for the current academic year have not been appropriated because of the delay of the state’s budget. 

“We’re all very hopeful there will be a budget and that it will include MAP,” said Lynne Baker, ISAC spokeswoman. 

In a fall 2016 ISAC survey of MAP-eligible students, respondents indicated they worked more to cover expenses because of lack of MAP funding, took out more loans, took fewer credits or transferred to a less-expensive school in or out of state because they could not afford tuition without MAP funding. 

State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, who’s chairman of the higher education committee, said with reduced state funding, schools such as JJC are forced to cut back on services or staff, or increase tuition. 

“I fear JJC will be forced to consider cutbacks and/or tuition increases this spring if the state doesn’t provide the operating grant funds that JJC is expecting,” McGuire said. 

JJC has responded to unreliable state funding by closing its Small Business Development Center, identify contingency items in its budget and approving a tax levy that does not rebate back to taxpayers the interest earned on bonds for major projects. 

McGuire said he was going to work toward funding MAP, as well as community colleges and universities when the state legislative session resumes this month. 

He said he was hoping state lawmakers can replicate the bipartisan success last April, when emergency funding for major Illinois universities and colleges was approved. 

“We need to do it again and we need to do it sooner than April,” he said. 

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