Small and Mid-Size Illinois Schools May be Most Affected by State Budget Impasse

May 12, 2017

Illinois schools

Public universities in Illinois have been vocal about their struggles with the lack of funding throughout the Illinois budget impasse. University administrators have been forced to make difficult decisions: canceling classes, laying off staff, and removing degree programs.

To better understand the effect of the ongoing budget impasse, the ICPR research team compiled enrollment numbers in Illinois and universities across the country to compare trends among institutions of higher learning. Enrollment statistics are just one metric that can be used to evaluate the health of public institutions of higher education, but they can provide an important understanding of growth from year-to-year.

Effects of the Illinois State Budget Impasse on Higher Education

The last time the State of Illinois provided full funding to public higher education was nearly two years ago, in the fiscal year ending June 30th, 2015. Under that budget, Illinois appropriated about $4 billion (6% of the total state budget) to higher education. That funding was allocated between public universities and community colleges.

In 2016, only $2.6 billion was allocated to cover the cost of the Illinois higher education system. Regional schools in Illinois have enacted some extreme cost-saving measures as a result of this change in funding.

Illinois schools

Higher Education Enrollment in Illinois and Other States

While enrollment is just one way to evaluate a university, it can be an important indicator of change over time. As shown in the chart below, some universities in Illinois have shown dramatic decreases in enrollment over two and five-year periods. Schools are listed in order of size, from largest to smallest.

Illinois schools 2

As shown in the chart above, schools with smaller student populations have, in general, seen larger relative decreases in the past two years than the large, flagship schools in the state. In order to contextualize this information, the ICPR research team looked at public four-year institutions in other highly populated U.S. states.
To easily compare enrollment numbers, schools were divided into three categories:

  • Small: 10,000 students or less
  • Mid-Size: 10,000 – 20,000 students
  • Large: 20,000+ students

Schools under 10,000 students have seen the most dramatic relative declines in enrollment in Illinois. As shown in the chart below, small schools in other states are not necessarily experiencing the same trend.

Illinois schools 3


While large, flagship schools are able to rely on reserves and private donations to make it through the ongoing budget impasse in Illinois, small and mid-size schools often do not have the same reserves.

In the past two years, Illinois schools have suffered enrollment declines that far exceed those of other highly populated U.S. states. In fact, some small and mid-size schools are increasing their enrollments faster than their larger counterparts, as can be seen in California and Texas.

While it’s not possible to draw a direct correlation between the lack of higher education funding in the ongoing budget impasse in Illinois and a decline in enrollment in state universities, it is a likely factor. Many small and mid-size schools have had to cut faculty, degree programs, and even close their doors to some students due to lack of funding.

Data on individual schools is available from our Political Data Director, Colin Williams. He can be reached for data requests, questions, or comments at or 312-436-1274.

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