Report: Most of Illinois universities' state funds go toward pensions
The state’s contributions to the State University Retirement System (SURS) on behalf of the state’s 69,436 university employees in 2014 was $21,644 per employee – five times higher than the $4,077 university employees contributed to their own pensions.
Despite large state contributions toward university employee pensions, as of June 30, 2014, SURS had a $20.04 billion deficit – a 186 percent growth over the past decade due to an increase in the number of retirees, state auditors said.
The Better Government Association reported that 39,800 university retirees were receiving benefits from SURS in 2005. By 2014, that number had grown to 59,406, with 1,443 retirees collecting more than $100,000 in pension benefits and 55 collecting more than $200,000.
In July 2012, an adjustment in the way SURS calculates future pension payments for public university employees resulted in many retiring before they had initially planned to.
The change meant that employees who started working before July 2005 and chose to retire before July 2, 2012 could maintain their benefits at the same level, but those who opted not to retire before the date would lose 7 to 8 percent of future pension payments, requiring them to work an additional year or more to make up that loss.
In the six months leading up to July 1, 2012, statistics from the University of Illinois system show that 1,008 of the university’s employees decided to retire, compared to 507 for the same period the year before.
Eighty-two employees at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale retired in June 2012, up from 45 the year before.
SURS said that overall, 3,356 state university employees across Illinois retired in the first six months of 2012, compared to 2,171 employees the year before in the same time period.
In addition to being rewarded handsomely upon retirement, Chicago professors earn more than the national average.
The Glassdoor website said Chicago professors earn $120,167 annually on average, compared to the $114,134 national professor salary average.
To support the salaries and pensions of professors, tuition costs have increased substantially over the past decade.
Between 2005 and 2015, tuition increased 71 percent at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, partially due to decreased state-government funding.
Higher education is vital to producing highly skilled workers the state needs to prosper. Illinois universities offer high-quality education, but as tuition costs rise to cover pensions and salaries, students will find it very difficult to afford education.