State commission unveils report on Illinois public university funding inequities

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The state’s funding model for public universities needs an overhaul, a report from a commission created by the Illinois General Assembly concluded.

In 2021, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) worked to create a commission studying how the state provides funding for public universities and its effect on student achievement across demographics.

The 30-member commission compared education funding formulas, and whether the current funding levels underserve minority and low-income students.

The commission unveiled the final report at a news conference on Wednesday.

“Equitable funding promotes diversity and inclusion within higher education. It enables institutions to implement programs and initiatives aimed at recruiting and supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds,” Lightford said. “This not only enriches the educational experience for all students but also prepares them to thrive in an increasingly diverse and globalized world. By investing in diversity, we are creating a more equitable society and fostering innovation and creativity.”

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According to the commission’s report, university systems spend more than double on academic and student supports than the less-resourced regional universities. Officials say academic and student support programs impact student success at universities above any other type of funding.

Included in the report is a proposed funding formula which would work to get all of Illinois’ public universities up to adequate funding levels in the next 15 years.

“These recommendations are bold and speak to the needs of our students and the institutions that serve them,” Christian Perry, director of policy and advocacy at Partnership for College Completion said. “We are proud to support this report and educate people across Illinois to spread the word about how we can transform our higher education system and our state’s future economic vitality for the better.”

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Ralph Martire, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability’s director, said the state needs to fix the funding because the data shows people who graduate with bachelor’s degrees make 85% more money, and structural racism in the state has meant almost half the number of the Black graduates compared to their white classmates.

“The Commission’s recommendation that Illinois adopt a funding formula for Higher Ed that is both equity- and adequacy-based makes more sense now than ever,” he said.

University officials support the reforms listed in the report.

“Equity-focused funding in higher education is long overdue,” EIU President Jay Gatrell said. “The sustained leadership of Senator Lightford, Representative Ammons, Chair Kothari, Deputy Governor Torres, and the entire Commission are positioning Illinois’ higher education system to be more efficient, effective, innovative, and responsive to the needs of all citizens, industry, and most importantly our students.”

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Lightford is working to schedule a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee this spring to discuss the report’s findings.

The full report can be found here.

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