FILE - Illinois Rep. Dan Brady, Pensions Health Care

Illinois Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, ask questions during a House Executive Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. 

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Board of High Education has approved a $2.1 billion budget request, a 4.5 percent increase over the prior year at a time when the state faces a multi-billion dollar budget gap.

The 2022 fiscal year budget proposal is $2.1 billion dollars and would reflect a 4.5 percent increase for general funds, excluding the State University Retirement System. The board said it aims to close equity gaps in higher education outcomes.

“This budget recommendation reflects a down payment on the strategic plan, which will focus on equity, affordability and attainment,” IBHE Chairman John Atkinson said.

IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro said the investment will help revive the state’s economy, which has been ravaged by the pandemic.

“We think is really the time to look at investing in higher education because it is important to help in the state’s economic recovery,” Ostro said.

Last month, IBHE said enrollment was up slightly. Overall enrollment in the state was up by 0.2 percent, or 417 students, compared to fall 2019 with 182,586 students enrolled in public universities.

Included in the budget is $50 million for the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which provides grant assistance to students with financial need. Another $23.2 million is earmarked for public universities and $5.3 million for community colleges.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he is skeptical about increasing funding during a pandemic.

“The situation we find ourselves in with COVID and with so many other pressures on the budget, I don’t foresee anything more than hopefully even a stable year for higher education let alone what potentially could be cuts,” Brady said.

The budget recommendation next goes to the General Assembly and the governor for consideration.

“Not that I think anyone opposes budgeting and investing in high education, it is the reality of getting money and revenues to invest further into higher education and that's where the debate will be,” Brady said.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.