As the special session of the General Assembly continues, Illinois’ students wait, hands tied, as the funding for their futures is held hostage.
Several failures in leadership brought Illinois to this point. The House passed emergency funding for higher education and social services, but did not pass a full budget. And, throughout the legislative session, Gov. Bruce Rauner vowed to veto various proposals to address the budget crisis. The special session is a critical opportunity for Illinois’ leadership to address the state’s needs before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
For students, the necessary outcomes of the special session are clear: The state must pass a full-year budget that restores higher education funding to fiscal year 2015 levels, meet Monetary Award Program grant commitments for the thousands of students who rely on state aid to finance their educations, and prioritize higher education moving forward. We urge the General Assembly to pass a budget that includes a meaningful investment in higher education and ask Governor Rauner to sign it. Not doing so could result in students forgoing school for the 2017-18 academic year and schools defaulting on their operating expenses and, in dire cases, shutting down.
Students like Catie Witt at Eastern Illinois University daily feel the tension caused by the budget stalemate. EIU’s enrollment decreased by 17.3 percent this year and the school has laid off more than 200 staff members. Constantly worrying about whether she’ll receive the promised MAP grant that helps pay her tuition makes it difficult to be optimistic about her educational future, and seeing reduced enrollment around campus doesn’t help.
Almost 200 miles away at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Marvin Slaughter shares many of the same concerns. His research supervisor left UIC for better financial opportunities outside Illinois, causing him to lose an important fellowship. The loss of this opportunity in a “work-experience needed” economy was just another casualty of the state’s trend of disinvestment. For Marvin, the budget stalemate and continued disinvestment go hand-in-hand in making it harder for young people to pursue degrees and successfully begin careers.
Catie’s and Marvin’s stories serve as our warning: As the state disinvests in students, students will disinvest in the state. Student enrollment has plummeted at regional universities, and 45 percent of Illinois’ high school graduates who enroll in higher education do so outside of the state. This exodus hurts already struggling schools in the near term, and the brain drain threatens the state’s long-term economic growth.
The state has not met student needs for too long. In-state tuition at Illinois’ four-year universities has skyrocketed by 57 percent during the last decade, making it the fifth-highest nationally and unaffordable for young Illinoisans, in an economy where 65 percent of jobs will require post-secondary education by 2020. As a result of state disinvestment state-based MAP grants — which in 2002 covered 100 percent of the costs of public school — today only cover 47 and 32 percent of community college and public four-year university costs, respectively. For many students, this grant is the difference between finishing a degree or being forced to abandon higher education altogether.
Illinois does not have the option of investing modestly in its students: The state economy depends on bold commitment to the educational futures of Illinois’ young people. The key to keeping students here, preparing them to fill skills gaps, and to contribute to the state’s economy is restoring higher education funding to pre-recession levels so that schools can begin lowering costs and ensure that financial aid supports completion. The special session is not a time for politics, it is a time for urgency and bipartisanship. The state must pass a full budget that brings higher education funding up to FY15 levels and Governor Rauner must sign it.
Illinois cannot progress if its young people are forced to stand still. We hope our leadership will choose to allow them to move forward.
— Erin Steva is the Midwestern regional director for Young Invincibles, a national non-partisan research and advocacy organization that works to expand economic opportunity for the millennial generation, with a team in Illinois working to advance higher education, health care, and workforce opportunities for Illinois’ young people.
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June 23, 2017 at 08:07PM