Letter to the Editor: Higher education funding cuts are urgent issue for all Illinois residents, NU students

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As the end of the spring legislative session in Springfield arrives, hope for a better tomorrow perseveres. Both political parties share some common goals: keep Illinoisans from leaving, attract more residents, business and jobs and turn our state’s fortunes around.

But with every day that lawmakers and the governor are unable to reach agreement on a full state budget, one critical component to reach these goals — our college and university campuses around the state — suffers very real damage.

It’s clear higher education needs to improve in some key areas, from becoming more efficient and eliminating duplicative programs to taking on charges of administrative bloat. But at what cost? Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed cuts to higher education in his latest budget address, and that follows 15 years of funding cuts to Monetary Award Program grants and operating funds for Illinois colleges and universities that have combined to defund, demoralize and dismantle what was once one of the nation’s leading higher education systems.

According to a recent study by the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, Northwestern is a huge economic engine in Evanston and the surrounding communities with an estimated economic impact of over $3 billion annually. And this number doesn’t include capital expenditure, federal research grants or athletic events. This makes NU an important partner, along with 59 other independent institutions across the state that employ almost 68,000 statewide and create an overall economic impact of over $20 billion annually in Illinois.

Last year, more than 500 NU students received need-based grants from the state through MAP. MAP recipients are by definition are students with the fewest financial resources to attend college, and the MAP grant is a critical piece of a puzzle (along with other grants, loans and work) to make college possible. Without MAP, many of these students simply won’t attend college. And MAP students, often first-generation and minority, greatly enhance the quality, diversity and overall college experience for all NU students.

As the state has cut more than $1 billion from higher education funding and aid for students between 2000 to 2015, we fail to appreciate how much a role colleges and universities play to provide higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services and much more. And with the House, Senate and governor debating further cuts, it is important to realize that slashing higher education is hypocritical and counterproductive, causing students to choose out-of-state schools or skip college altogether.

It’s time for the NU community — the students, families, educators, administrators, alumni and everyone in the Evanston area who depend on NU — to mobilize. Contact your state representatives, senators and the governor through calls, emails, social media messages and in-person visits to let them know it’s time to end the impasse and make NU and all Illinois colleges and universities as valued as they are valuable to our state.

Dave Tretter, president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities