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Students, communities, accreditation at risk for universities (VIDEO)

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If the budget impasse continues beyond July 1, the state’s colleges and universities face dire consequences said Senators Pat McGuire, Iris Martinez, Bill Cunningham and Scott Bennett at a press conference in Springfield today.

“Every sector of Illinois higher education is being damaged by the absence of a budget, from our flagship universities to our public community colleges,” said McGuire, D-Joliet, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “We haven’t had MAP grants throughout the last academic year. Our regional public universities are suffering and have had to cut jobs and programs, and their enrollment has declined because there is no stability in higher education.”

McGuire said the failure of the state to fund local community colleges also means students and local property taxpayers are picking up the slack. McGuire urged the General Assembly and the governor to adopt a balanced budget for fiscal year 18 and also a supplemental appropriation for the fiscal year now ending that will address these concerns.

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn also spoke, saying that the federal Higher Learning Commission has clearly announced that Illinois universities and colleges could lose accreditation status if the impasse continues – effectively rendering a degree from the schools worthless.

“We’ve seen a rush to the exit for students to look at enrollment in other states, and with that we’ve lost faculty and staff who are losing confidence in the state of Illinois’ willingness to fulfill its role to create a higher education system,” Dunn said.

Dunn said federal accreditation includes universities’ ability to qualify for federal funding and aid for students, and that their ability to do so is now at risk due to the impasse.

“If our universities lose accreditation, they will shut down,” Martinez said. “How serious is our governor about this crisis? This should have ended May 31. Governor, if you are serious about education, show us that you are.”

Bennett, whose district includes the University of Illinois, said the impact will also be felt in communities where colleges and universities are located.

“I don’t know what happens to those communities if those universities aren’t there. We have the best universities in the country. It took us 150 years to get to that point, and sadly, only a year or two to threaten the entire investment we’ve made. We’re not crying wolf. This is the time to act, or we risk everything we’ve built in 150 years.”

Cunningham said another risk of losing accreditation is gaining it back is not easy.

“We could pass a budget a couple months later and it really isn’t going to undo that damage,” Cunningham said. “When universities aren’t accredited, there is no reason for a student to enroll there. This is something we have to do now.”