Recounting personal stories of how the Illinois budget impasse has affected them, students, professors and business owners testified before the House Appropriations Higher Education Committee on Thursday afternoon about how their lives have changed since the state last had a budget.

People around the state, but especially those who rely on state-funded scholarships, and those who rely on students to make their living, have been hit hardest by the budget impasse that started in July 2015. Without funding, scholarship coffers are drying out, some schools are working on borrowed time and patience is wearing thin.

Those who came to speak represented universities, businesses and hospitals from around the state. The room was packed at the start of the testimonies. Students and professors from public and private universities told the representatives what they saw at their universities and how they’ve had to dip into or deplete savings accounts to afford their educations.

Zaiga Thorson (left), from BlackHawk College, and Kimberly Archer, from SIU-Edwardsville, told representatives about how the budget impasse has affected the health of professors and forced layoffs. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Amy Sticha, a full-time biology student at Northeastern Illinois University, said that because of the financial problems the university found itself in she has missed out on 12 class periods and two weeks of pay due to furlough days. Right now, she said, no one she knows has faith that this is going to be resolved in a way that is good for students.

“Morale is very very low,” she said. “We don’t know if our university will be open next year. Everyone I know has a backup plan in either Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan. If we don’t get funding, if our university closes, then everything we’ve spent the last several years striving for is suddenly useless and we have no real reason to stick around.”

Students from Chicago State University talked about protesting to save their school from closing while still managing their studies. Another student panel talked about the importance of Monetary Award Program funding and panels for faculty and staff told representatives how the stalemate has led to layoffs and professors taking their knowledge and experience out of state.

Deion Owens, who had to use all of the money in his savings account to pay for a semester at Roosevelt University, said that it’s a tiring and frustrating situation to be in.

“We were blinded by this budget impasse and not being able to have these funds,” Owens said of himself and others at Roosevelt. “One thing I keep seeing is that the state of Illinois is hurting our dreams. Teaching is what I dream of … I shouldn’t have to fight for a scholarship. It sucks, it’s terrible.”