Illinois university projects remain in limbo after spending millions
- The state of Illinois spent approximately $14 million on a number of construction projects at state colleges and universities as part of a 2009 capital plan, but those projects are either cancelled or remain in indefinite status, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Despite approval, the projects never received full funding to start construction, with Gov. Bruce Rauner stating that the bond funding put aside to pay for the projects had run out, and the state legislature had not allocated additional funding. Even with additional funding, the original plans may have to be amended, which could make it harder to find enough funding to begin construction.
- The stalled projects include a performing arts center at Western Illinois University and a center for Advanced Chemical Technology to be located at the University of Illinois at Chicago. According to Rauner's office, the governor is still hoping to eventually fund the construction of the new facilities but the initiatives remain at a standstill.
The financial state and stability of Illinois' public university system led the Chicago Tribune to call for a consolidation of the state's system to a more centralized authority under the state earlier this summer. The number of governing boards had been expanded in 1995 to allow for greater local control, but the Tribune editorial board argued it made it harder for the state to address system-wide issues. The system has also received increased scrutiny in the aftermath of the resignation of Douglas Decker as president of Northern Illinois University, who was accused of financial mismanagement during his tenure but left his role receiving more than $700,000 in severance compensation. The run of financial turmoil Illinois is experiencing can be illustrative for other university systems that not following through on plans for new construction can make the system seem increasingly unstable in the light of other financial problems; some students and parents may be wary of enrolling in a system that seems in disrepair.
However, higher ed institutions must be careful as to what they intend to spend their money on in the first place, and should question whether ostentatious construction projects may have the opposite effect in the minds of students. There is evidence to indicate that some students may find the cost of luxury dormitory accommodations unnecessary, and would make them less likely to enroll in that institution. Instead, institutions were opting to use the available funding not put into such construction for practical amenities, like dining plan assistance for students. As the student population increasingly looks to the practical outcomes as a chief aspect of selecting a college or university in an age of less available tuition and funding for institutions, the heads of colleges and universities may look to cheaper, practical applications for funding rather than glitzy new construction projects that may have been seen as a method of student applicant attraction in the past.