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Taxpayer Costs Soared as Illinois Public College & University Enrollment Dropped

Forbes Online

Friday, April 13, 2018  |  Commentary  |  Adam Andrzejewski, Contributor - CEO and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com

Education reform (38) , Education--Higher (37)
A woman walks on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Ill. (AP Photo/David Mercer, File)

There’s no question – there’s something wrong with Illinois higher education. While enrollments trended downward, pay and pension benefits spiked upward. Soon, some Illinois colleges may have more staffers than students.

In 2016, the freshman class enrollment at Chicago State University numbered just 86 incoming students. Meanwhile, the university employed 980 staffers. Even after the ratio was exposed, the numbers haven’t sustainably improved. In 2017, just 145 freshmen enrolled at Chicago State, but the university payroll shows 660 employees costing nearly $40 million.

For the last two decades, Illinois’s public colleges and universities vastly increased the cost of their payrolls and lavished extraordinary lifetime pension payouts – but the institutions have yet to see a measurable increase in students. Quite to the contrary, enrollments decreased by nearly 8 percent over the last 17 years.


OpenTheBooks.com

Illinois Colleges and Universities with the Largest Enrollment Drops (2000-2016).

Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com reviewed disclosed data since the year 2000. Consider our key findings:

  • Plummeting student enrollment. In 2000, Illinois public college and university enrollment was 534,615. By 2016, enrollment had fallen to 493,378. That’s a 7.7 percent drop.
  • Massive Payroll and Pension Costs. Illinois higher-ed payroll in year 2000 was $2.8 billion. Today, current payroll costs $4.2 billion. But that doesn’t include 46,430 employees in 2000 who since retired and currently draw $1.8 billion in annual pension payments. These new retirees represent a heavy legacy cost on the underfunded system supported by tax dollars.
  • 13,300 Highly Compensated Educators Making $100,000+. Active, working educators comprise less than 9,700 of the 13,300 six-figure educators. The other 3,700 are retired, enjoying six-figure pension payouts.

Review the all-time Illinois higher education retirement pension payouts, here.


OpenTheBooks.com
*Career Wages is the amount of compensation employees received over their entire career.
**Total Pension Contributions is the amount an employee paid into their own pension over their entire career.

This gross lack of accountability – and the decoupling of pay and pension compensation from the real work – is not a new issue for Illinois higher education. Here are three historic examples of taxpayer abuse:

  • The fourth all-time college pension went to Ron Guenther, the former athletic director at the University of Illinois. Guenther retired in 2011 after bumping his salary from $330,000 (2003) to $608,000 (2010). Last year, Guenther received a $487,287 pension payout – that’s more than $40,000 every month.
  • Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar double-dipped the Illinois General Assembly pension ($166,000 per year), the State University Retirement System pension ($83,000 per year), and, currently, is hired back ‘part-time’ by the University of Illinois for another $62,796 per year. In total? More than $311,000 per year.
  • Retired Moraine Valley Community College President Vernon Crawley’s salary bumped from $202,709 (2001) to $673,000 in his final year (2011). In his sixth year of retirement, Crawley enjoyed a $383,260 annual pension payment (2017) – that’s nearly $32,000 per month.

Illinois income taxpayers are slammed with these excessive state college and university retirements because colleges have no skin in the game. Universities don’t have to fund these pensions – employees pay in eight percent of their salary and literally leave the rest to the taxpayers. This year, there were 33 pensions that exceeded $300,000 – some of those retirees "broke-even" on their own cost-basis pension contributions after just 11 months in retirement.

The University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana are the worst offenders for putting taxpayers on the line to fund their pricey operations despite $2.1 billion in financial assets amassed by the University of Illinois Foundation.

The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) paid its 14,282 employees more than $1 billion in compensation last year, including nine out of the top 10 most highly compensated employees in the system. The University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana paid six-figure compensation to more than 2,050 employees. Brad Underwood – the University of Illinois basketball coach hired in March 2017 is the most highly compensated employee funded by taxpayers ($680,675). (Football coach Lovie Smith enjoys a six-year, $21-million contract plus $8 million in potential bonuses – but taxpayers fund just $111,571 of it annually.)

Consider these examples of recent retirees whose salary hikes ensured padded lifetime pension payouts:

  • Paula Meares had served as chancellor of UIC for six years when board members decided to replace her. In her final year as chancellor, Meares’ salary spiked from $426,272 (2014) to $475,931 (2015). In 2016, Meares made another $410,000 and received a bonus for nearly $100,000 on her way out the door. In 2017, Meares received her first pension payout for more than $250,000.
  • Before retiring as the director of UIC Center for Global Health, Timothy Erickson’s salary shot from $465,688 (2014) to $491,118 (2015). In 2016, Erickson pulled down another $476,512. In 2017, Erickson received a $214,704 pension payout – but he wasn’t ‘retired.’ Erickson continued his career as a core faculty member at Harvard and an emergency medicine physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
  • A trio of University of Illinois professors retired in 2016 after substantial end-of-career salary increases. Former psychology professor Brian Ross's salary spiked from $245,626 (2014) to $290,605 (2016). John Colombo, former law professor, saw his paycheck increase from $248,855 (2014) to $333,446 (2015). (Dr. Colombo's salary hike was the result of taking an interim dean position at the College of Law, read Colombo's full background and response here.) Former Dean of Faculty and business professor Gregory Northcraft's salary bumped from $409,623 (2014) to $435,515 (2015). In their first year of retirement, each of them received more than $193,000 in pension payouts.

Review all Illinois higher education public employee salaries, here.


OpenTheBooks.com

Top 10 Illinois Higher Education Salaries (FY2017).

In Illinois, academic power couples can work together to game the system. The southern Illinois junior college power couple Dale Chapman ($466,840) and Linda Terrill Chapman ($223,809) combined for a $690,000 income at Lewis and Clark Community College last year. If you think they’re costly now, just imagine the ever-growing size of their pensions.

Other junior college presidents are also raking in huge paychecks: Christine Sobek at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove made $379,464; Thomas Ramage at Parkland College in Champaign made $285,130; Sylvia Jenkins at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills pulled down $271,825.

It’s not impossible to clean up the system. In 2014, we launched an oversight investigation on the College of DuPage. We exposed the president trying to procure a corrupted $20 million state construction grant and more than $100 million in hidden spending over a six-year period. Transparency worked – and there is a new day at the College of DuPage.

Holding Illinois universities accountable has proven effective. For example, after years of enrollment drops, Eastern Illinois University (EIU) faced a 14-percent budget cut resulting in at least 400 layoffs. This year, however, EIU President David Glassman told an Illinois House committee that the college expects a significantly bigger freshmen enrollment and the budget balanced.

Across the state, Illinois must use transparency and accountability to protect student tuition funds, taxpayers, and clean up their budgets. Until then, however, the student brain drain will continue. These highly paid educators aren’t attracting Illinois high school grads to their universities. On the contrary, since 2002, the percent of Illinois high school graduates choosing out-of-state colleges has skyrocketed from 29 percent to 46 percent.

High school grads are fleeing Illinois universities like they're on fire – and they’re right. Illinois higher education is burning student and taxpayer money.

 Learn more: our comprehensive coverage of the 63,000 Illinois public officials earning more than $100,000 in FY2016 published at Forbes, click here.