Small and medium-sized public universities hurt by the state's historic budget standoff saw the biggest enrollment declines this year compared with similar-sized schools in nearby states.
The nonpartisan Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said in a report released this week that Chicago State University's enrollment declined by nearly 25 percent — the largest decrease among schools with less than 10,000 students. Eastern Illinois University had the third highest decline in that group at 13 percent.
The report compared the schools with universities in Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Enrollment at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale decreased by 7.5 percent. That was the largest enrollment decrease among universities serving between 10,000 and 20,000 students. Western Illinois University, which is also in that size category, saw enrollment decrease by 6.5 percent — the second largest decrease in that group.
The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers says the report emphasized that several factors besides the state budget impasse could have contributed to the declines. But university officials and lawmakers have said high school counselors have been encouraging students to apply out of state because of Illinois' financial uncertainty.
SIU spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said state universities' efforts to recruit students will continue to be negatively impacted by the lack of a state budget.
"It is still going to hang over us and many other public institutions in the state as along as the budget impasse continues," Goldsmith said.
The state has gone without a full budget since July 1, 2015 because of an ideological battle between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature. The state is currently operating under a six-month stopgap budget, and universities received a small boost in funding in April. But before that infusion of cash they had gone nearly a year without state support, prompting Chicago State University to lay off about 300 staffers and at one point the school considered closing its doors.
"Without drawing a direct correlation, I think we all should be a little bit alarmed at what we're seeing and hopefully keep this in mind when it comes time to renegotiate the stopgap budget," said Sarah Brune, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Illinois' larger universities, those with more than 20,000 students, have fared better than smaller institutions. Illinois State University and the University of Illinois' three campuses saw slight enrollment increases, ranging from 0.2 percent and 1.8 percent.