1446CARBONDALE --- SIUC student Jacob Liebman sees an unfortunate if not unfair set of economic circumstances at play in Illinois.

On one hand, a growing number of industries increasingly value a college education for potential hires.
At the same time, the state of Illinois continues investing less and less in its public universities and colleges.

The inevitable result is soaring tuition, crushing student debt and students potentially giving up on higher education, or at least obtaining degrees at Illinois institutions.

Liebman, a senior agricultural business and international marketing major from Pleasant Plains, had the chance to voice his concerns with Illinois State Senator Gary Forby and other lawmakers during a panel discussion this week at the SIU Student

Health Services Center. Forby, a Benton Democrat, represents the SIUC campus and is a former farmer. Liebman represents the College of Agricultural Sciences in the SIUC Student Senate.

“When you sit in an auditorium full of college students fearful about their futures, the reality and ridiculousness of the state’s budget impasse really hits you,” Forby said.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed nearly all parts of the state budget lawmakers passed, sending the state into a now unprecedented deadlock that has dragged on for more than four months. Public colleges and universities are among the victims of Rauner’s vetoes.

With no state support, Illinois’ public universities are living on borrowed time. As schools scramble to cope, students fear being hit with tuition and fee increases even as their financial aid programs are shut down.

Forby expressed his concerns for what would happen to the Illinois’ economy if thousands of students who now rely on the state’s financial aid program are forced to abandon higher education when the accounts run dry and bills come due.
“We need to make sure the money is there for education,” Forby told the gathering of SIUC undergraduate, graduate and professional student leaders who filled the auditorium at the Student Health Center.

Joining Forby on the panel was Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat whose Senate District includes the SIU Medical School campus in Springfield.

Manar reiterated the concern that the benefits of higher education are being priced out of the grasp of too many families and students, a practice contrary to the basic mission of state government.

"Furthering education shouldn't just be offered to those who can afford it," Manar said. "It should be offered to anyone who wants to further themselves."

Forby and Manar said the parties involved aren’t really that far apart on financial issues and hoped a commonsense compromise could be negotiated.

“That takes leadership,” Manar said, “and that takes someone willing to lead to do it.”

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