With state budget, University Center has new lease on life

At about 4:40 p.m. Thursday, screams of jubilation echoed through the halls of the University Center of Lake County in Grayslake.

Staffers hugged each other and danced with joy when the Illinois House overturned Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget veto, and the University Center's future was secured.

Before the budget went through, the center had enough money to operate only until Dec. 31, 2018. Now, it has a new lease on life.

"We're here for the long haul now," University Center Executive Director and Dean G. Gary Grace said Friday. "We're feeling much better today."

According to the new state budget, the University Center is to be appropriated about $1.07 million, twice as much as it has received from the state during the past two years. It received no state funding for the 2015-16 school year and $532,500 last year.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Democrat who voted for the budget, said the University Center provides a great service to the people of Lake County and the state.

"It's incredibly important we ensure its survival, which is what we did with this budget," Yingling said. "It breathes new life into the University Center and all other high education institutions."

The new funding is a far cry from what the center once received from the state. In the 2009-10 school year, the state contributed about $2.9 million to the University Center. That number gradually dwindled to about $1 million by the 2011-12 school year.

But Grace isn't complaining.

"It helps us to be stable and allows us to plan for the years ahead," he said.

Grace said the state appropriation probably will account for about half of the center's revenue this school year. The rest will come from renting space and charging fees to their partner colleges and universities.

Opened by the state in 1997, the University Center allows suburban students to earn degrees from 20 four-year colleges and universities through classes hosted at campuses in Grayslake and Waukegan. About 350 students earn degrees annually through classes at the University Center.

Grace said everyone at the college is grateful for what the legislature did. He hopes the situation won't be so dire in the future.

"The bipartisan nature of this, that is a good sign," Grace said. "I think the Republicans and Democrats realize what's at stake."

Lack of state funding could end University Center next year

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