CHICAGO
01/26/2012 01:42 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

Illinois Higher Education Funding Will Go To Pensions, Not Students

Illinois is increasing higher education spending by 12 percent this year, but that money won't benefit in-state students. Illinois State University reports that the additional funding will be funneled directly into a pension program for state university employees.

The State Universities Retirement System (SURS) owes $17.2 billion in benefits beyond the assets it has on hand, according to the Illinois Statehouse News. Addressing this deficit will bring Illinois' higher education spending from $3.2 billion in 2011 to $3.6 billion this fiscal year; at the same time, the amount of money reaching college classrooms decreased by 0.76 percent from last year to this year, from $1.62 billion to $1.6 billion.

The SURS deficit represents a small portion of the state's unfunded pension liability, estimated at around $85 billion, though a 2009 study by Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management estimated actual costs could be as high as $219.1 billion.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan touched on the pension funding problem during a public appearance at Elmhurst College Tuesday, blaming excessive spending by both parties and praising the new budget passed last year as part of the solution, the Chicago News Cooperative reports.

"We've got huge budget problems in this state," Madigan said, according to the CNC. "Why? Well, there was overspending in the past and many people engaged in the overspending. It wasn't just one or two people."

The additional funding diverted to pension costs would surely have been welcomed on the classroom level by state universities, who have complained of growing expenses outpacing their funding sources. The University of Illinois announced last week that they would raise tuition costs for incoming freshmen next year, the second such hike in less than a year that will leave new students with a price tag nearly 12 percent higher than in 2009.

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