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Illinois’ new state budget puts SIUE on firmer financial footing

Students walk through the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the Spring of 2017.
Students walk through the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the Spring of 2017.

Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville is planning to boost salaries, launch new academic programs and continue renovating buildings thanks to lawmakers finally passing a state budget.

The school even expects to receive the $15 million it loaned the Carbondale campus by the end of August.

During the budget fight, all state universities and colleges saw less than half of their usual state funding. But SIUE is in better financial shape than most state universities and colleges because the university trimmed its budget by about 10 percent before the two-year impasse.

Illinois’ new budget gives public colleges and universities 90 percent of what they received in fiscal year 2015, and retroactively funds public colleges for the spring of 2017.

SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said he was glad that state legislators decided to reimburse colleges for the 2016-2017 Monetary Award Program grants, a scholarship for low-income students.

“For us that’s between a $6 and a $7 million commitment that we were making to backup those scholarships from the state, so when the state said, 'Yes, we will pay,' then there was a kind of sigh of relief,” Pembrook said.

Salary boosts, new programs

SIUE is in such good shape that it will be able to soon give faculty and staff their first salary increase in at least three years, Pembrook said.

“I think it’s very important that we do something,” Pembrook said. “We’re right in the midst now of determining what we can do as it relates to rewarding the faculty and staff that have been here, that have suffered through 736 days without a budget.”

That was welcome news for SIUE faculty union president Kim Archer. Her union is in the middle of negotiating its first contract, and Archer thought raises might have to wait until bargaining is complete.

“We have no interest in breaking the bank or making unreasonable demands, but we do feel that the faculty salaries have been low-balled for a very long time to give the university the financial flexibility to do things that they’ve prioritized higher than the faculty,” Archer said.

According to Archer, a professor of music, the starting salary for liberal arts professors with a doctorate degree at SIUE is $40,500. She said that’s “less than we could probably make in a number of fields where you’re not even required to have a graduate degree, much less a specialty.”

SIUE is also planning to add four or five new academic programs as soon as this fall, including an online criminal justice program, an organizational leadership program for business executives and a master’s in public health.

“One of the things that I think is really kind of exciting is that we’re offering certificates — post-bachelor's certificates,” Pembrook said. “It doesn’t take a huge commitment, but four or five classes can really make a difference in terms of developing some specialties.”

SIUC woes

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale is exploring cutting seven degrees and $26 million from its budget to improve its financial stability.

During the budget impasse, the trustees of the Southern Illinois University system approved a loan of up to $35 million. Pembrook said the total amount was closer to $15 million.

“That was kind of the original model; that if something good happened — i.e. a budget, that it would be a very short-term situation with the payback,” Pembrook said.

An earlier version of this story identified Kim Archer by the wrong first name.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille