Guest View: Federal tax reform bill will harm college students

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Illinois college students and their families need a high-quality, affordable education now more than ever. Our private colleges and universities have worked hard to provide that quality education at an affordable — and increasingly competitive — price in recent years. But that progress faces a serious threat from Washington.

As the state has made historic funding cuts in the last decade, private campuses across Illinois have invested in students by controlling costs in many ways, seeking alternative ways to generate revenues to provide the high-quality education students need, and streamlining programs to provide more value for students’ investment.

These actions are in response to the needs of the students and families we serve. And in part, these actions address the call from lawmakers to slow down the increasing cost of higher education while still providing access to a college or university that best fits an individual student’s needs.

Now Congress, through its recently unveiled tax reform bill proposal, threatens to throw up additional roadblocks that threaten the financial stability of private nonprofit colleges and universities and their ability to serve students.

One ominous proposal would place a tax on private college endowments. The earnings from endowments, along with private fundraising and other institutional revenues, have long provided scholarships to students as well as base funding for academic programs. Cutting this revenue will decrease funding for needy students and increase the costs to offer programs. In Illinois alone, private colleges and universities annually contribute more than $1 billion in institutional aid, enabling tens of thousands of students to achieve a college degree. Taxing endowments makes little sense if our goal is to increase college participation.

Another part of the proposal would eliminate employer-provided education assistance, which provides much-needed assistance to working students by incentivizing employers to provide tuition assistance benefits. Most recipients of this benefit are non-traditional students trying to improve their skills and workplace mobility. Colleges, businesses and labor organizations all support this important benefit that allows employers to invest in their workforce, while allowing employees the ability to advance their education and experience.

If also enacted, the elimination of tax-exempt bonds for private colleges and universities could significantly raise the cost of capital projects, at a time when the need for infrastructure improvements and safety upgrades (many mandated by government) are greatly needed. This type of bond financing for nonprofits, which meets significant post-issuance disclosure and compliance requirements, is a proven tool with a decades-long record of success for providing vital public services and creating jobs. Low-cost access to capital helps keep private colleges and universities strong, enabling us to keep expenditures low so we can focus on the work we do for the public good and the students and families that we serve.

And there are other provisions that benefit students and institutions that are the target of new taxation. One of these include removing the student loan interest deduction, incredibly important as students start their careers and begin repaying student loans. Another is taxing employee tuition and dependent benefits, which help retain talented staff and would hurt the lowest-paid college employees the most.

A top goal of tax reform should be to support college students and the institutions they attend, not hurt them. Illinois private colleges and universities have a long commitment to providing educational services for the common good. As students succeed, so does our economy and state. Targeting private colleges and universities in this bill could have severe long term consequences, and further deters our national and state goals of having 60 percent of our adults holding some college credential by 2025. Congress should seek ways to encourage the American dream, not shatter it.

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities

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November 16, 2017 at 08:18PM

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Guest View: Federal tax reform bill will harm college students

Illinois’ teacher shortage starts at college

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Illinois’ teacher shortage starts at college

The shortage of teachers in Illinois’ high schools and elementary schools has its roots in the state’s colleges and universities.

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November 15, 2017 at 07:04PM

Illinois’ teacher shortage starts at college

Olsen Announces Retirement

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A long career in coaching and teaching is about to end. Paul Olson, track and cross country coach at Augustana College, has announced he’ll retire next spring.

He started in 1966 as head coach of the men’s cross country team, and recently concluded his 52nd season. The upcoming track and field season will be his 50th.

Olson is also a professor of English at Augustana, teaching classes in African American Literature and the “Sacred and Profane.” And has been chosen by 15 senior classes to give what’s called the “Last Lecture” before graduation.  

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November 15, 2017 at 11:17AM

Olsen Announces Retirement

GOP tax plan would hit Illinois private colleges and students hard

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Illinois college students need a high-quality, affordable education now more than ever. Our private colleges and universities have worked hard to provide that quality education at an affordable – and increasingly competitive – price in recent years.

But that progress faces a serious threat from Washington.

OPINION

Even as Illinois has made historic funding cuts in the last decade, private campuses across our state have invested in students by controlling costs in many ways, seeking alternative ways to generate revenues to provide the high-quality education students need, and streamlining programs to provide more value for students’ investment.

These actions are in response to the needs of the students and families we serve. And in part, these actions address the call from lawmakers to slow down the increasing cost of higher education while still providing access to a college or university that best fits an individual student’s needs.

Now Congress, through a tax reform bill that has just been unveiled, threatens to throw up additional roadblocks to the financial stability of private nonprofit colleges and universities and their ability to serve students.

One ominous proposal would place a tax on private college endowments. The earnings from endowments, along with private fundraising and other institutional revenues, have long provided scholarships to students as well as base funding for academic programs. Cutting this revenue will decrease funding for needy students and increase the costs to offer programs.

In Illinois alone, private colleges and universities annually contribute more than $1 billion in institutional aid, enabling tens of thousands of students to achieve a college degree. Taxing endowments makes little sense if our goal is to increase college participation.

Another part of the proposal would eliminate Employer-Provided Education Assistance, which provides much-needed assistance to working students by incentivizing employers to provide tuition assistance benefits. Most recipients of this benefit are non-traditional students trying to improve their skills and workplace mobility. Colleges, businesses and labor organizations all support this important benefit that allows employers to invest in their workforce, while allowing employees the ability to advance their education and experience.

If also enacted, the elimination of tax-exempt bonds for private colleges and universities could significantly raise the cost of capital projects, at a time when the need for infrastructure improvements and safety upgrades (many mandated by government) are greatly needed. This type of bond financing for not-for-profits is a proven tool with a decades-long record of success for providing vital public services and creating jobs.

Low-cost access to capital helps keep private colleges and universities strong, enabling us to keep expenditures low so we can focus on the work we do for the public good and the students and families that we serve.

And there are other provisions that benefit students and institutions that are the target of new taxation. The proposed tax reform bill, for example, would remove the student loan interest deduction, though this is incredibly important as students start their careers and begin repaying student loans. The bill also would tax employee tuition and dependent benefits, which help retain talented staff and would hurt the lowest-paid college employees the most.

A top goal of tax reform should be to support college students and the institutions they attend, not hurt them.

Illinois private colleges and universities have long been committed to providing educational services for the common good. As students succeed, so does our economy and state. Targeting private colleges and universities in this bill could have severe long term consequences, and further deters our national and state goals of having 60 percent of our adults holding some college credential by 2025.

Congress should seek ways to encourage the American dream, not shatter it.

David W. Tretter is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

 

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November 14, 2017 at 11:51AM

GOP tax plan would hit Illinois private colleges and students hard

Survey: International student enrollment at Illinois universities growing, but more slowly

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More international students attended Illinois colleges and universities last year, but that growth is becoming more modest locally and nationally, according to newly released data.

Illinois schools enrolled 52,225 international students in 2016-17, the fifth-most in the country and about 1,900 more than the year before, according to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors study, released Monday.

That 3.8 percent change is the smallest recent increase, following growth of 8.1 percent, 9.5 percent and 8.7 percent in the previous three school years. That amounts to over 13,000 more international students over the past five years, the majority of whom hail from China and India, according to the study.

American universities have long courted international students to diversify campuses and bolster their enrollment and tuition revenue. U.S. schools hosted about 1.08 million international students in 2016-17, the second straight year that total hit seven figures. Still it is one of the smallest percent increases recorded in the past decade.

The study does not include complete data since President Donald Trump was elected. Multiple attempts by the Trump administration to institute a travel ban stirred confusion for universities and prospective students over the direction of immigration law.

Current and recent international students in Chicago said American universities offer some of the best research opportunities in the world, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students and IIE leaders agreed political changes in the U.S. and stiffer competition from other countries are influencing the market for recruiting international students, though the full effects may not be known for a few years.

Boxuan Zhao, who earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Chicago earlier this year, said American schools are not necessarily the default option for Chinese students seeking advanced degrees.

“There are definitely more programs being created in Europe, and I do know a lot of students are starting to turn toward Europe for study abroad,” said Zhao, 27, now a postdoctoral research fellow in genetics at Stanford University. “I personally have a few friends in the U.K., in Germany, so I think they’re really enjoying their time there.”

Sankul Rawat, a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student in computer science, said many of his peers in India are choosing Canada over the U.S.

“Actually the main reason (for) this shift is because of the politics,” said Rawat, 25. “Because right now students are thinking about how these immigration policies are going to change. Everyone is skeptical (about the) travel ban — (or) if there is any kind of ban.”

So far, this fall, schools are seeing wildly different dynamics with international student enrollment. Of nearly 500 schools IIE surveyed, 45 percent showed drops while the majority of schools reported increases or no change.

Illinois schools popular among international students added hundreds to their rosters in 2016-17 and are seeing even more growth this fall.

International enrollment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign grew 4.1 percent in 2017 to 11,198 students, according to university data. Three-fourths are from China, India and South Korea.

More than 1,100 new undergraduate and graduate international students enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall, spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

“With all of the changes and conversations about international students and immigration this year, I think everybody was wondering what these numbers would look like and what prospective students would decide to do,” Kaler said. “It was nice to see that students still had confidence in us and still wanted to be here.”

UIC added 372 international students to its enrollment this fall, totaling 3,517, according to school data. Almost all the growth on the Near West Side campus came from undergraduates: from 566 last fall to 936.

Targeted recruiting of undergraduate international students is a new initiative for UIC, according to Neal McCrillis, vice provost for global engagement. Undergraduates now comprise 26.6 percent of UIC’s international student body, compared to 16 percent in 2014.

The situation is reversed at Northwestern. New undergraduates increased from 115 in 2006 to 277 last fall, school data show. New graduates during the same period increased from 424 to a high of 1,625 in 2014, dropping to 1,511 last year.

The Evanston-based school increased its international student body from 5,062 in 2015 to 5,363 last year, according to IIE data. Northwestern officials did not have finalized data available for fall 2017.

“Our numbers have grown steadily over the last 10 years or so,” said Ravi Shankar, director of Northwestern’s International Office. “We don’t fluctuate a whole lot only because we don’t do a whole lot of recruitment that we don’t need to. If the growth in the master’s programs continues, we should be OK.”

The Illinois Institute of Technology and University of Chicago also added hundreds to their international student enrollment in 2016, according to the IIE report. School officials were not available for comment and did not provide data for fall 2017.

International student enrollment nationwide grew 3.4 percent, though IIE officials say that is primarily due to an increase in already-enrolled students staying in the country longer to complete Optional Practical Training in their academic fields. The number of new international students enrolling at U.S. schools fell 3 percent in 2016, the first time in six years this figure declined, according to the IIE.

IIE President Allan E. Goodman called the findings “a wake-up call” that should spur colleges and universities to reassess recruitment strategies.

“There’s continuing concern about cost, there’s continuing concern about campus safety, concerns about the complexity of our application process,” Goodman said. “That has been evident over the past couple of years. We’ll know a lot more next year.”

For the Chicago students, U.S. schools offered clear advantages.

“You get access to a lot of really cutting-edge technologies and, generally speaking, the funding is not a real issue when compared to China,” said Zhao, who has studied genetics in China and the U.S. “Sometimes there will be some limits when it comes to certain types of research. In the States, it will be much more free.”

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November 12, 2017 at 11:12PM

Survey: International student enrollment at Illinois universities growing, but more slowly

InFocus: Democratic Gov. Candidates Talk College Tuition At U Of I Forum

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A member of the Illini Democrats opened the candidates forum Monday night, with a line sure to please the party faithful:

“Thank you all for coming out tonight, the date that marks one year out from the day that we take the state back from Bruce Rauner.”

The crowd at the U of I’s Gregory Hall auditorium erupted into cheers and applause. Whichever candidates those in attendance supported, they all hoped their choice would defeat Governor Rauner next November.  

Of the seven Democrats running for governor, four of them were on hand Monday night to talk about why they should be their party’s nominee to challenge Rauner.

When moderator Tom Kacich of the News-Gazette raised the issue of rising college tuition, three of the four candidates sharing the table at the forum said the answer was to make state college and university tuition free.

That’s what candidate Tio Hardiman called for. And to pay for that free tuition, Hardiman says he wants to move from a flat state income tax to a graduated one, and also put a tax on financial transactions, like the sale of stocks and commodities. Hardiman, whose running mate, former Champaign County NAACP president Patricia Avery was also present, estimates those two changes could bring in five billion dollars a year in additional state revenue.

“So, under a Hardiman and Avery administration of four years, that’s 20 billion dollars of new revenue here for the state of Illinois,” said Hardiman. “So we plan to use some of those funds to make college tuition free, for college students … and I’m not just saying this because I’m running for governor, this is what we believe in — make college tuition free up until the bachelor degree level.”

Hardiman was alone among the candidates in supporting a tax on financial transactions, a proposal currently languishing in the Illinois House. But State Senator Daniel Biss said that like Hardiman, he also supported free tuition at state universities and community colleges. The suburban Chicago lawmaker said free college is as sensible as free public schools.

“We made a decision a hundred years ago as a society, that you need an elementary and secondary education to be competitive,” said Biss. “And so we made free access to universal public, elementary and secondary education. Our economy has changed. It’s time for our public services to change with it. And it’s time for free college.”

Bob Daiber, the lone downstate candidate, wouldn’t go that far. He called for raising state funding for state colleges and universities, but only back to 2012 levels. Daiber also said state universities need to be at the front of the line when lawmakers are working out the state budget … because they’re both an educational service and an economic engine.

“And it’s got to be a priority because Higher Ed is an economic stimulus for this state in every university town,” said Daiber, who serves as the regional superintendent of education in Madison County. “Students bring revenue to the state as we attract them. And they also provide revenue when they’re graduates.”

But moderator Tom Kacich had a follow-up question: if higher education should be a top priority for state funding, do other state programs have to make do with less? Former University of Illinois Board President Chris Kennedy rejected the premise. Putting down his unreliable wireless microphone, Kennedy got up from the candidates’ table and told the crowd that a graduated income tax would not only pay for free state college tuition, but could raise money to help all state programs.

”You can’t say to the state of Illinois, the people of Illinois, that you have a choice between affordable higher education and all other services,” Kennedy said. “That’s not true. What you have a choice between is a state with a great future that’s funded by a progressive, graduated income tax, or a state that stalls out.”

The candidates also answered questions about promoting job growth, helping downstate communities, what to do about state pensions and gun violence. The Illini Democrats said it was the only gubernatorial candidates forum organized by students this campaign season. The group’s communications director, Max Weiss, estimated attendance at up to 200, with a few more following the event live on Facebook.

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November 9, 2017 at 08:19AM

InFocus: Democratic Gov. Candidates Talk College Tuition At U Of I Forum

Democratic Gov. Candidates Talk College Tuition Costs

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A member of the Illini Democrats opened the candidates forum Monday night, with a line sure to please the party faithful: “Thank you all for coming out tonight, the date that marks one year out from the day that we take the state back from Bruce Rauner.”

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November 7, 2017 at 06:17AM

Democratic Gov. Candidates Talk College Tuition Costs