In response to Illinois’ growing problem of more and more students attending college outside of the state and several public universities seeing steep enrollment declines, State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and State Rep. Dan Brady (R-Normal) will file the Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan, legislation that overhauls the state’s higher education system.
Their plan would make the state’s higher education system more efficient, having each university focus on its strengths and make applying for and getting into public universities easier for students, with the goals of getting more Illinois students to study at Illinois public universities and saving taxpayer dollars.
For example, from 1991-2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges has declined by 50,000 students. Since the 1960’s, Illinois has been a net negative exporter of college students in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“The structural problems of higher education far transcend the last couple of years during the budget impasse,” Rose said. “Every student we lose is another student who will most likely take their talents and knowledge elsewhere, hurting Illinois in innovation, jobs, and economic impact. This drain of students is a direct drain on the state. This legislation is a thoughtful and methodical approach to reform, but make no mistake, higher education in America is facing unprecedented challenges and changes are needed for a strong and dynamic vision for our cherished institutions. We must carefully, but swiftly, move to protect our strengths.”
“Students deemed most ready for college – we’re talking high GPA and high ACT test scores – generally have higher outmigration rates. We are losing the best and brightest to other states. The consequences of this are devastating. Local economies are hurt. The state’s budget is hurt. Job creators aren’t attracted to locate here. Communities are not growing,” Rose concluded.
“We have world class colleges and universities in Illinois, yet more and more Illinois students choose to leave our state to continue their education. This ‘brain drain’ can’t continue,” said Brady, Spokesman on the House Appropriations-Higher Education Committee. “With this legislation, we’re offering real solutions that will help us keep our best and brightest here to get their degree and, hopefully, to put their talents to work in our communities.”
In 2000, Illinois lost 4,781 students to other states, an equivalent to an estimated lifetime loss of $776,400,930 in tax revenue to the state, according to the report, “Estimating the Economic-Impact of College Student Migration from Illinois.”
“If these statistics aren’t a wakeup call to the need to change how we advance higher education in Illinois, I don’t know what will,” Rose said. “We have some of the most talented professors, beautiful campuses – all strategically placed – and some of the nation’s top programs, yet for those who leave Illinois to attend college – 50 percent of them leave for good.”
Rose and Brady’s Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan would enact sweeping changes that would help boost enrollment at the 12 public universities in Illinois, direct resources to the strengths of each institution, and give more opportunities to families. Specifically, the legislation would:
• Creates a uniform admission application to be accepted at all public universities in Illinois.
• Any high school student with a grade of B or better average will qualify for automatic admission to an academically appropriate public university if they maintain their B average through graduation. This will extend an opportunity to all students in Illinois; while respecting individual institutions rights to admit students that are the best fit for their existing programs.
• Any student who is not offered admission to a public university must automatically be referred to the community college district where they live and provided with enrollment information.
• If a public institution of higher education accepts a student, they will receive an acceptance letter from that institution setting forth any grants or scholarship offers extended by the institution at that time.
“All of these ideas will have a direct impact positive impact on both our universities, students and their families,” Rose said.
The legislation would also help identify the most successful academic programs in the state so that the legislature can insure that it is using taxpayer dollars wisely in supporting our strengths, it will perform a study on successful merit based aid programs to be used as an inducement to keep Illinois’ best and brightest in state, and it provides greater teeth the Illinois Board of Higher Education when it comes to costly programmatic expansions. For example:
• The Board of Higher Education shall conduct a study ranking the quality of academic departments to corresponding other departments at other public universities and campuses in Illinois.
• The Board shall produce a statement of excellence for each campus.
• The Board shall institute an economic efficiency review of each campus and the top eight ranked academic departments statewide
• The Board shall study the opportunity for merit-based financial aid to be awarded to students described directly above.
• The Board shall report is recommendations to the General Assembly including specific recommendations on the creation of a statewide merit-based financial aid program and how to pay for such a program.
• The Board shall study the concept of multi-year budgeting and report specific recommendations to the General Assembly no later than January 1, 2019.
“Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” Brady said. “Working together with our universities, we can change the system and encourage more Illinois students to consider continuing their education here at home. I look forward to helping advance these needed changes in the Illinois House.”
Even during the most recent extreme fiscal pressure being place on our institutions of higher education, Rose says plenty of wasted tax and tuition dollars could be seen. In just two examples, one small and one large, you can see the need for both greater accountability and the need for better planning in higher education:
1. NEIU – Interim President Richard Helldobler and his staff were caught using funds on lavish travel arrangements to attend Don Trump’s inauguration to the tune of $7,782 on just a four day trip. He said it was because he wanted to talk to his United States Senator – something that could have been accomplished for next to nothing by simply picking up the phone.
2. The University of Illinois recently added an $82.6 million brand new STEM (Science Tech, Engineering and Math) building for its’ Springfield campus. $82.6 million for a new STEM program when the ‘crown jewel’ of the state’s higher education system, the U of I’s engineering and science programs in Champaign-Urbana. We need to start by protecting what we already have – not reinventing the wheel. Not too mention that several other universities in Illinois with higher ranked STEM programs than UIS’ have been awaiting new science buildings themselves.
“That would make sense, if, that is, it was at the Urbana Campus to complement their internationally renowned engineering faculty,” Rose said. “NIU, EIU, and WIU have all been patiently waiting to overhaul their own programs.”
Nationally, higher education’s share of every state’s budgets is shrinking. For example, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported in a 2015 publication that:
• Between 2008 and 2013, nationally, appropriation support among the 50 states for public education per student declined 26%.
• 46 states cut support for public higher education per student from 2008-2014.
• The decline in support in part reflects the growing spending in Medicaid, pensions, and K-12 education.
“I want to thank U of I President Tim Killeen for inviting me to an American Academy of Arts of Sciences presentation, where the group highlighted these startling statistics,” Rose said. “But an even bigger issue than funding from the state is that tuition rates have exploded over the years, far outpacing what universities are being cut by.”
• From 1978-2008, the cost of living doubled and medical costs increased nearly six times, but college tuition and fees increased 10 times, and the price of college has increased 439% since 1982 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the College Board.
• The College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges showed while state operating support for public universities has declined seven percent from Fiscal Year 2005 to Fiscal Year 2015, tuition and fee revenue has not only offset the state budget cuts, but sustained the annual public university revenue growth rate in excess of five percent.
• The University of Illinois has seen a $36 million or 5.2% decline in state funding from Fiscal Year 2005 to Fiscal Year 2015, yet revenues from tuition and feeds has increased $668 million or 155.5% according to 2015 report issued by the Illinois Senate Democrats.
On July 26, 2007, the Illinois House passed HJR 69, sponsored by Rose, which mandated the Board of Higher Education undertake a master plan for Illinois higher education through the creation of a Task Force on Higher Education and the Economy. It studied the challenges and opportunities facing higher education, the state’s workforce needs, demographic trends, higher education funding, and student financial aid.
After a year of study, deliberation, and collaboration, the Public Agenda Task Force presented the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. On December 9, 2008, the Board unanimously endorsed the Public Agenda as the blueprint to guide education policy from preschool to graduate school in Illinois for the next decade. Rose says after that endorsement, however, nothing happened.
“There was a blueprint, year ago, on how higher education in Illinois could improve, but no action was taken,” Rose said. “But the blueprint, unfortunately, turned into something designed to protect the status quo. We need to face the realities that the higher education marketplace is changing and changing rapidly and that far from ‘protecting’ the status quo, the status quo is seriously undermining our world class higher educational institutions.
“It is clear that nationally, and in Illinois, higher education is in a state of flux. Change will be necessary, but thoughtful, coordinated change, can help us strengthen a great system. This is the beginning of a conversation – a dialogue – these are only ideas and I look forward to taking positive suggestions, creative ideas, and constructive criticism to move Illinois forward and reshape and strengthen our world class institutions for the taxpayers, the students and families across Illinois.”