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Universities Feeling Pressure From Decreased Enrollment

University of Illinois, Springfield

  Enrollment is down at many of Illinois' public universities. As Hannah Meisel reports, the lost tuition is hurting schools' bottom line.

As the state has cut funding to higher education, universities have made up for the losses by raising tuition. But when there are fewer students to pay, colleges feel the squeeze all over again.

At Western Illinois University, enrollment is down 2 percent from last year — about 500 fewer students. Officials say that's an opportunity cost a nearing a million dollars. Western's President Jack Thomas says the enrollment drop off has created a tenuous fiscal situation.

"The decline in enrollment is a pressure, yes," he said.

Enrollment is down at Eastern Illinois University too. The school cut 11 percent of its staff in the last five years, which President William Perry says has saved $10 million.

So doesn't smaller enrollment plus smaller staff equals smaller growth?

"Well, yes, but the first place to grow as a higher ed insitution is in quality and keeping the quality up," Perry said.

Both men were in Springfield asking lawmakers for more money — or at least flat funding — next year.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to the station in 2020.
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