CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — Things seem to be looking up for one state school.
Eastern Illinois University grappled with declining enrollment and a sharp decrease in funding during the budget impasse.
It was a heavy blow, as officials had to decide where to make major cuts.
But a lot of progress has been made in the past couple of years.
There’s a reason several thousand students call EIU home.
“One thing about Eastern is that we’ve always been focused on relationships.”
Public Information Coordinator Joshua Reinhart says students have always been the number one priority, even when the state budget impasse dealt the university a major blow.
“We tried to, with all diligence, stay away from anything that would affect the students,” said business affairs vice president Paul McCann.
When you combine a lack of proper funding with a decline in enrollment, it’s a financial nightmare.
McCann knew big cuts were coming, and they had to be made somewhere.
“We got up to about 400 employees that were laid off.”
Grounds crews, secretaries, plumbers, and maintenance workers got the pink slip.
“It was a struggle,” said McCann. “We all had extra work that we had to do. We all picked up somebody else’s tasks.”
It was a dark time, but fast-forward to now…and things are looking up.
Last fall, the school saw a 20% increase in full-time freshman enrollment.
Money is trickling back in. The university can refill some of those positions left vacant.
“Things have improved. We still have a long way to go. There still is a lot of deferred maintenance…things that haven’t been accomplished over the last multiple years,” said McCann.
It’s a slow process, and it may take several more years…but school officials are determined Eastern will grow even stronger.
“We all work very well together to make sure that we’re always doing the best that we can for eastern’s success now and in the future,” said Reinhart.
EIU officials talk about efforts to rebuild and recoup, after the university was hit hard during the state budget impasse. They say the impasse, combined with a decline in student enrollment, created a troublesome situation.
The local Teamsters union recently had a campus beautification day, where volunteers came to pull weeds and plant flowers.
That recognized how some of the positions, like grounds crew members, can now come back.