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August 2, 2004


SPRINGFIELD - A budget preview that appears cautiously brighter heads a busy agenda for the Illinois Board of Higher Education next week.

The Board will meet Tuesday, August 10, at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Headlining the Board's agenda will be a review of the fiscal 2005 budget enacted recently by the General Assembly, and a companion piece that offers some mild encouragement for the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers approved FY05 appropriations that, excluding pension dollars, total $2.1 billion, just $3 million below the spending level for fiscal 2004.

The budget context report for FY06 points out that colleges and universities have endured significant reductions in state resources - $246 million, or 9.2 percent - since FY2002. During that period, FY02-FY04, public universities reduced administrative costs by an average of 18.4 percent, totaling $74 million.

The report further notes that "there is some indication that the state's fiscal health may finally be stabilizing with progress toward economic recovery underway." It includes, however, a note of caution from the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission which states that "State government will have to continue to make difficult choices for the foreseeable future."

Board members also will hear an update of an ongoing study of textbook costs.

Governor Rod R. Blagojevich asked the Board in April to look into the matter of textbook prices. The study remains a work in progress, and Board members are not expected to take action on the issue in August.

Items for discussion on August 10 include the causes of high prices of textbooks, the lack of options for students and professors, and innovative ways that colleges and universities are dealing with the issue. There is a successful textbook rental program at Eastern Illinois University, and the Illinois Central College buys books from a single publisher and is therefore able to negotiate prices and tailor editions of certain texts. Online sites, student book swaps, and a textbook buying club are all possibilities to be explored in the future as a strategy for making college more affordable for all students.

The Board will receive a report and recommendations for revisions to its strategic plan, known as The Illinois Commitment. The "mid-term review" of the plan suggests adopting The Illinois Commitment as an explicit statement of policy to guide state and campus priorities in the future. The strategic plan was adopted by the Board in February 1999.


Don Sevener



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