SIU approves tuition assistance for specific student groups, nearly 3 percent drop in budget across system

Vice Chair Ed Hightower, Chair Phil Gilbert, Executive Secretary Misty Whittington and General Counsel Lucas Crater (left to right) attend the Feb. 13 Board of Trustees meeting on the SIUE campus.

Freshmen from lower-income families will be able to attend SIUE for free beginning next fall, after a vote from the SIU Board of Trustees last week.

Thursday’s Board meeting brought the announcement of a new system-wide initiative, called the SIU System Commitment, which will cover the tuition and mandatory fees for new four-year undergraduate students who have an annual family income of less than $63,575 with less than $50,000 in assets, beginning Fall 2021.

To qualify for this program, a student must also be an Illinois resident who attended an Illinois high school, apply for admission by the March 1 priority deadline and enroll in a baccalaureate degree program.

SIU System President Dan Mahony said the program will cover the costs of these students’ tuition and fees after all other aid has been applied.

“Costs for [these students’] educations will be covered by a combination of Pell Grants, state scholarships such as MAP and institutional aid,” Mahony said. “Essentially, this is the last-hour approach, so once they get aid from all of those other places, the institution will cover whatever is remaining on their tuition and mandatory fees.”

The Board also approved SIUE’s plan to extend its alternate tuition program for active military members to include Department of Defense civilian employees. 

Both undergraduate and graduate students who are eligible for DoD Tuition Assistance can qualify for this program. SIUE’s alternate tuition program sets the tuition rate at $250 per credit hour, the maximum benefit provided to these students by the DoD’s Tuition Assistance program. 

Chancellor Randy Pembrook told the Board the extension of this program was planned due to the large number of civilian employees working out of Scott Air Force Base, located less than 30 miles from SIUE’s campus.

“There are approximately 5,000 civilian employees at Scott Air Force Base,” Pembrook said. “We think that we could attract 50 to 100 in our first year, and this would make us more competitive in that market.”

Additionally, the Board voted to approve the SIU System’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which sees a $25.1 million decrease in funds when compared to FY 2020. 

The total operating budget for the SIU System for FY 2021 falls at a little over $848 million, a 2.88 percent drop from last year. According to the Board’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting, this decrease is due primarily to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the universities’ operations. With estimated expenses falling just under $895 million, this puts the system at a deficit of nearly $47 million.

During the meeting, Trustee Ed Curtis expressed concerns about the system dipping into its reserves and said he thought this needed to be a part of the budget discussions.

“I understand we’re in a pandemic and it’s a challenging year, but I don’t think we’re painting an accurate picture of how fast we’re running through our reserves,” Curtis said.

Later in the meeting, Mahony said while uncertainties always play a factor in the budget, the pandemic has amplified these concerns. However, he said the universities have been budgeting conservatively and taking measures to avoid increasing the deficit.

“I will say, whenever we’re doing a higher education budget, there’s always a certain amount of uncertainty because so much of it is related to enrollment and different revenue sources that are not always predictable, but the uncertainty this year is just magnified a lot more,” Mahony said. “We try to budget as conservatively as possible, put in a contingency in each of the budgets … doing all of the things that you need to to make sure we’re not doing anything that adds to our deficit or making things worse.”

SIUE’s total revenue for FY 2021 is estimated to be $288.5 million, down 2.3 percent from last year. With costs estimated at $293.9 million, this puts the campus at a deficit of $5.4 million. Despite the deficit, SIUE has reduced costs, cutting almost $10 million, or 3.2 percent, from last year’s budget.

According to Budget Director Bill Winter, most of the decrease in costs can be attributed to the timing of facilities projects.

“Last year, we completed the Founders Hall renovation, and we are intentionally delaying the start of the next building renovation project [Alumni Hall] to accumulate sufficient levels of cash reserves in order to do the project,” Winter said.

For more information, visit the SIU System’s website, or view the meeting on the Board of Trustees’ Youtube page. The next Board of Trustees meeting will be held Dec. 3.

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