The following letter was sent to Illinois’ federal legislators today by presidents of the state’s public universities, listing their priorities for inclusion in legislation investing in infrastructure and families. Proposals endorsed by presidents would promote student affordability, research and innovation, diversity and social equity initiatives and bricks-and-mortar improvements.
Dear Member of Congress:
We write to urge Congress to address the needs of our state’s public universities and students. In particular, as Congress drafts legislation to enact the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan (AJP) and American Families Plan (AFP), we ask that you include the following priorities:
- Enhancing higher education affordability and access
The Pell Grant program is the cornerstone of the federal student aid system, and provides essential support to roughly 50,000 low- and moderate-income students annually across our 12 universities. As families continue to grapple with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that Congress boost funding for Pell Grants. We are pleased that President Biden has endorsed the goal of doubling Pell.
The AFP takes an important step in that direction by increasing the maximum Pell award by about $1,400. We urge Congress to take even stronger action by ensuring that legislation investing in American jobs and families doubles the maximum federal Pell award to $12,999 and indexes the grant to inflation.
In addition, while the AFP invests in many aspects of higher education, we agree with the concerns expressed by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU):
“…the plan is unfortunately incomplete in our view as it does not provide a broad strategy to increase access and affordability for public four-year university students.…While the proposal is well-intentioned, we strongly believe all public colleges and universities should be included in a federal-state partnership to address college access and affordability and urge such an expansion.”
- Investing in campus, research and student infrastructure
We welcome renewed interest in addressing the country’s pressing infrastructure needs. Like public universities around the country, our campuses have endured many years of insufficient capital investment and deferred maintenance. Accordingly, we strongly support increased investments in campus and research infrastructure, ranging from brick-and-mortar facilities to computing capabilities and networks. Investments in infrastructure should also include funding to address and mitigate the impact of climate change, from supporting climate research to enhancing resiliency. We also support APLU’s call for a Higher Education Connectivity Fund to help provide internet access for students.
- Increasing funding for innovation and economic growth
U.S. national and economic security depends on our country’s continued leadership in science and technology. Unfortunately, after a decade of tight caps on discretionary spending, federal funding for research and development (R&D) is far too low. To foster the groundbreaking innovation that will move America forward, it is essential that Congress significantly increase R&D funding for agencies such as the National Science Foundation, as well as investing in the arts and humanities. In addition, we urge Congress to invest in regional innovation and workforce development consortia such as the Illinois Innovation Network.
- Prioritizing efforts to enhance diversity and equity
We applaud the AJP’s commitment to addressing longstanding and persistent racial injustice, and to eliminating racial and gender inequities in R&D and STEM fields. We hope that Congress will provide robust funding to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion and that federal funding agencies will enact policies that do the same.
- Restoring incentives for charitable giving and advance refunding bonds
As Congress considers changes to tax law, we hope it will address concerns relating to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). In particular, we ask Congress to reduce the disincentives for charitable giving that the TCJA created. Specifically, we ask that charitable deductions be extended to all taxpayers, regardless of whether they itemize. In addition, we call on Congress to repeal the gross income exclusion for interest on advance refunding bonds. The ability to advance refund and restructure outstanding debt would help our universities, particularly in light of current financial uncertainties and pressures.
Thank you for your consideration, and for your service to the people of Illinois and our nation.
University of Illinois System
President Timothy L. Killeen
Chicago State University
President Zaldwaynaka Scott
Eastern Illinois University
President David M. Glassman
Governors State University
President Cheryl F. Green
Illinois State University
President Larry H. Dietz
Northeastern Illinois University
President Gloria J. Gibson
Northern Illinois University
President Lisa C. Freeman
Southern Illinois University System
President Daniel F. Mahony
Western Illinois University
President Guiyou Huang