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Column

Reeder: Illinois should work to get students to stay in state for college

Scott Reeder
Scott Reeder

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois is experiencing a brain drain.

Just as adults are migrating to state’s with better business climates, so too are new high school graduates when they choose where to attend college.

In fact in 2013, 40 percent of new Illinois high school graduates who chose to attend public four-year universities went out of state.

And many never may return to live in the Land of Lincoln.

Each time this happens, we should ask ourselves: How did we let down our next generation?

Look no further than Eastern Illinois State University.

Enrollment at that school has dropped from 11,630 students in 2010 to 8,913 in 2014. That’s a 23 percent drop in just four years.

And the story doesn’t end there.

Enrollments also are down markedly at Western Illinois University in Macomb and at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

And in Urbana-Champaign, the University of Illinois has seen interest from in-state students plummet.

As I noted last week, according to university data, in 2006, 58 percent of Illinois students offered admission to the U of I attended. In 2013, that number dropped to 45 percent.

This problem has caught the attention state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, a member of the House Higher Education Committee.

The primary reason students are choosing to study out of state is cost.

Often, once financial aid packages are factored in, it is less expensive for students to earn degrees elsewhere.

“The cost of doing business is high in Illinois,” Batinick said. “The cost of liability insurance has gone up 1,000 percent over the last 20 years for the U of I. The cost of workers' compensation has gone way up significantly for our state universities. And kids work part time on college campuses, and our minimum wage is higher than other states. All of these things make it more expensive for universities and businesses to operate in this state."

And college in Illinois is expensive.

For example, if you are an engineering student entering the U of I this fall, you can plan to spend $35,340 a year for tuition, room and board and other expenses. That’s $141,360 for the degree – if you are able to graduate in four years.

But Batinick said tells only part of the story.

“There is a laundry list of mandates that are imposed on our universities that also make it more expensive for them,” he said.

And that, of course, jacks up tuition and means fewer dollars for financial aid.

And if you think Illinois universities are struggling to compete because the state doesn’t provide adequate funding for colleges, think again.

Illinois ranks third in the nation for its state spending for each full-time university student, Batinick said.

Yep, he said, third.

And much of that money flowing to state universities is going to toward our state’s unsustainable pension system. Our state is in desperate need of pension reform.

Businesses – and workers – are leaving Illinois because of the state’s business climate. And now students are choosing to study out of state for the same reason.

Until Illinois addresses fundamental businesses issues, this migration of students and workers will continue.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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