Poshard Talks Education, Money at Paducah Meeting
By Candice Freeland
PADUCAH, KY - As an Illinois native, former state and US Senator, and current university president, Glen Poshard is well aware of the myriad issues that just won't seem to go away in his home state. Issues like a government pension system that can no longer be funded, taxes that prompt businesses to locate elsewhere, high unemployment, and declining enrollment at the university he now leads, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Speaking to the Paducah Lion's Club meeting on Tuesday, Poshard's concern for the future of the state was apparent, but so was his pride in Southern Illinois University.
"Eighty percent of our graduates are full-time employees," which is rare in today's workplace. He said SIU is the "economic engine" of southern Illinois, with 34,000 students, 13,000 employees, and an annual budget at $860 milllion.
Despite the impressive statistics, there are other numbers to consider as well; like the fact that the university has received only 16-percent of the money allotted to it from the state for the current fiscal year: that's $45 million they're still looking to receive. Also, despite the lowest tuition and fees in the state, enrollment is down at the Carbondale campus, but not the Edwardsville campus. Poshard says there are a number of reasons for that, including a population decline in southern Illinois. There is high unemployment, with Jackson County having one of the highest rates in the state.
Also, there is competition from schools in other parts of the state. There's the fact that, due to it's geographical location, SIU also has to compete with Murray State, SEMO, and Mid-Continent University for students. To combat that, SIU offers in-state tuition costs to students from a number of states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Missouri.
In regard to the Edwardsville enrollment, Poshard says it's not an issue there because the campus is located so close to East St. Louis.
In discussing other issues, Poshard said Governor Quinn's decision to close Tamms Supermax Prison was baffling to him.
"The logic of it didn't make sense. You have an overcrowded prison system in the state of Illinois. And you're closing prisons in southern Illinois, which has the highest umemployment rate in the state. The most impoverised rates of counties in the state...And you're trying to find space for prisoners...I didn't see the logic behind it."
In regard to the business tax climate in the state, Poshard says it's "way of of whack," so it's no wonder that businesses often look elsewhere.
"They could come right across the river and make a greater profit..." noting that tax rates for the entire state are based on the economy of northern Illinois.
As for the economic future of the state, Poshard, who describes himself as a conservative Democrat, says he doesn't know that it's possible to recover from the indebtedness that currently exists there.
"The state of Illinois is so far in debt. It's along the order of one-hundred billion dollars now on this pension system. It's along the order of nine-billion dollars in unpaid bills right now...And I know he has to find ways to cut the budget. I understand that. But that should be undertaken in concert with what's going to hurt the economy...I don't know if it will ever recover to the point that it was before all the borrowing began. I just don't know."
He said he hopes one day there will be people in Springfield who will know what should be done.