A strong public university system creates an innovative business climate

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I wonder why any business would want to relocate to or start up in Illinois where the public universities are being strangled and starved. A business, its employees, and their families are more apt to thrive in an environment offering innovation, networking and business opportunities, as well as career advancement. These are all benefits that public universities help provide.

— Penny L. Havlicek, Ph.D., Frankfort

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A strong public university system creates an innovative business climate

Our View: Freezing tuition for in-state students smart move for U of I

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Getting a college degree is one of the best investments a person can make, given that studies have found a bachelor’s degree can lead to a median $1 million more in income over a lifetime. And a degree from the University of Illinois carries with it a certain prestige, given the stellar academic programs the three schools in the system offer.

And yet, increasingly Illinois students are shunning in-state colleges. Forty-five percent of Illinois’ 2015 high school graduates who enrolled in four-year colleges left the state, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. In 2002, only 29 percent did so. All public universities in Illinois — except for U of I campuses in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago — had enrollment drops in the fall.

The IBHE found that the net loss of Illinois residents to other states in 2012 and 2014 was roughly 16,500 — or basically the equivalent (plus another 1,500 students) of the entire undergraduate student body of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. They’re heading overwhelmingly to public schools in neighboring states like Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, which are aggressively recruiting Illinois kids by offering good financial aid packages and the promise of stability. And once they leave, they’re not likely to return.

Higher education in Illinois has taken a beating of late, especially during the two-year budget impasse when it was starved of state aid. Illinois continues to lead the nation in population decline, as residents move to places with lower property taxes and more stable state finances. That in turn leads to fewer people paying taxes for needed services, not to mention the loss of smart people whose brain power now helps other states.

The state is never going to achieve a thriving economy unless the best and brightest kids decide to attend schools in the Land of Lincoln — and then stay put to devote their talents to creating a better Illinois.

The University of Illinois is offering a strong financial reason for high school grads to stay here for college. The system, which oversees the universities in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, announced Friday it wants to freeze tuition for in-state freshmen entering in the fall. If approved by the Board of Trustees it would be the fourth consecutive year the system has frozen tuition.

Since Illinois has Truth in Tuition — a 2004 law that guarantees a fixed tuition rate — if approved, those amounts will be locked in for four years. Given how fast college costs increase — the College Board says nationwide tuition and fees rose by an average of 3.1 percent at four-year public colleges and universities for the current academic year — that is a promise U of I should aggressively sell to prospective students.

Those rates would be competitive: The average tuition for four-year public colleges for 2017-18 was about $10,000, according to the College Board. The U of I is proposing keeping the tuition rates that have been in place since the 2014-15 academic year: $12,036 a year in Urbana-Champaign, $10,584 in Chicago, and $9,405 in Springfield. Of course, there’s room and board and fees to factor in too, but we note the U of I has taken steps to keep costs affordable. During the past decade, it has increased need-based financial aid more than fourfold. It said about half of undergrads pay less than full sticker price across the system’s three schools.

We are never going to get long-term improvements in the state if we can’t convince talented young Illinois residents to stay and contribute. Locking in costs as prices continue to soar elsewhere, combined with financial aid that makes college affordable, can be a compelling selling point. The U of I board should support this proposal when it meets Jan. 18.

Our View: Freezing tuition for in-state students smart move for U of I

How to reinvent Illinois higher ed (and reduce the brain drain)

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Southern Illinois University’s enrollment is in “free fall,” and the chancellor knows whom to blame. No, not the usual suspects — a stingy legislature, rising costs, tapped-out donors.

“Why is this (enrollment drop) occurring?” SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said in October. “It’s occurring because we are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today’s students.”

Boom.

Montemagno uttered these heretical (to defenders of the status quo) words as he proposed a dramatic reorganization that would lop off departments and department heads in the name of better serving students and allocating money. You don’t often hear such blunt it’s-us-not-them talk from Illinois public university presidents. They and their friendly enablers, too many pols in Springfield, battle to preserve state spending on university fiefdoms in their districts. Whether students go out of state, or enroll here and fail to succeed, are secondary concerns.

We’ve been promoting a bold rethinking of Illinois’ balkanized, redundant and largely unaccountable university system. In a capsule:

  • Illinois has 12 universities run by nine separate boards. Consolidate these governing boards into a unified structure similar to successful higher ed systems in several states. Centralized oversight would ditch duplicate administrators, overhead and curricula — and divert money from administrative costs into classrooms. A unified system also would react more rapidly when a school is in a tailspin.
  • Steal a best practice from other states by replacing duplication with distinction: Push each university to specialize in discrete areas of academic strength, not to copy every other school by offering the same high-level programs. No more shoveling state dollars into duplicative programs that attract few students.

In a December visit to the Tribune Editorial Board, Gov. Bruce Rauner told us he agrees. He plans to set up a bipartisan commission to kick-start this formidable job. Rauner says he’ll model it after a similar commission that helped produce a new K-12 funding formula last year. There are plenty of excellent candidates.

Atop our list is Montemagno. And his colleague Kathleen Chwalisz, president of the SIU faculty senate. Here’s her smart take on his overhaul proposal: “It feels like we’re renovating a really old house that has lots of little rooms in it. … Ultimately it’s going to be a little chaotic, and dirty and uncomfortable for a while as we do that; but the kids have left home and we don’t need 20 bedrooms.”

We’d buttonhole education finance guru Paul Vallas, who is now grappling with one of the state’s biggest higher ed challenges: How to revive a struggling Chicago State University.

Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar helped shepherd the complicated new state public school funding bill last year. Governor, ask Manar to tackle higher ed.

Former City Colleges board member Paula Wolff has vast experience in academics and management. She’s tough, smart — and skeptical of educrats with an edifice complex.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen is pushing to extend a tuition freeze for Illinois residents for a fourth straight year. Killeen, who came from New York’s state system, would know how to make Illinois universities less redundant and more appealing.

State Rep. Dan Brady and state Sen. Chapin Rose, both Republicans, sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would empower the Illinois Board of Higher Education to evaluate campuses and rank their academic programs. It would also rate the campuses’ “economic efficiency.” That could help strip redundancies from the state’s university system.

Plenty of charitable foundations and think tanks could contribute brain power. Chicago’s Joyce Foundation, for instance. Or Lumina Foundation’s Strategy Labs, which produced a smart report last year on how Illinois higher ed lacks statewide goals and spending priorities.

Streamlining and consolidating isn’t a radical notion; there’s been plenty of whispering in Springfield about combining weaker universities with stronger ones, particularly as enrollment plummets at many schools.

Five years from now, Illinois will have a reinvented, unified system as admired as those in California, Wisconsin or New York. Or Illinois still will have a collection of universities that fail to deliver for many students and all taxpayers.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

How to reinvent Illinois higher ed (and reduce the brain drain)

WIU President: Western’s Situation Getting Better

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Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas gave a State of the University address at the start of the new school year.  At the time, he said the state of the university was “okay.” Now, with the fall semester in the books, Dr. Thomas said the school’s situation is improving.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Thomas said Western was helped by resolution of the state’s two year budget impasse, which came to an end in early July. He said dependable state funding helps the university move forward.

“Hopefully the state will continue to invest in higher education and we can put all that behind us and begin to do some more innovative and creative kinds of things,” Thomas said.

The university has received around $24 million of its state appropriation for the current fiscal year.  It can expect another $22.3 million during the spring semester.

The state also recently reimbursed Western $6.5 million in MAP grant funding for the fall semester. MAP grants are awarded to students from low-income families.

However, Thomas said Western is not yet out of the woods.  He said the university must continue to be frugal and keep seeking support from other sources, such as corporations.

He also pointed out the state still owes WIU around $10 million for last fiscal year.

And he said the university could still use state financial support to address much needed repairs and renovations.

“We need the state to invest in our capital projects including deferred maintenance,” Thomas said.

“All of the (Illinois public higher education) institutions are advocating for the release of funding for those capital projects as well as for deferred maintenance. We’ve gone a number of years without having that funding.”

He would also like the state to release funding for building a Center for Performing Arts on the Macomb campus.  That project has been on hold for several years.

Jeanette Malafa, Western’s Assistant to the President for Governmental Relations, also believes higher education is not yet out of the woods.

She told the WIU Board of Trustees that she expects a politically divisive legislative session in 2018 because the ten year redistricting process will begin after the November elections.

“Add that to the growing call for higher education reform in the state and the uncertainty of whether a state budget will actually be passed, and I believe we could be in for a very bumpy ride in Springfield,” Malafa said.

WIU President: Western’s Situation Getting Better

Tom Kacich: UI stands alone with enrollment increase

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Questions for Tom? Ask them here

Illinois’ more-than-two-year-long budget stalemate, which ended in July this year, clearly took its toll on the state’s public higher-education system, enrollment figures show.

Public universities’ head count dropped 2.3 percent from a year earlier, while community-college enrollment statewide was off 3.4 percent this fall compared with fall 2016, according to a preliminary report this month to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The head count also was down at independent, nonprofit schools in Illinois but by just 1.9 percent.

Nationally, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1 percent from the previous fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That includes a 0.2 percent drop at public four-year institutions and a 1.7 percent decline at public two-year institutions.

But the reduction was much more severe at most Illinois public universities, which went virtually without any state operating funds in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 while Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature fought over the state budget and other issues.

The head count at Western Illinois University fell 11 percent this fall, followed by 10.9 percent at Chicago State, 9.8 percent at South-ern Illinois-Carbondale, 7.2 percent at Northeastern Illinois, 6.5 percent at Eastern Illinois, 5.4 percent at Governors State and 4.4 percent at Northern Illinois.

Only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (up 0.2 percent) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (up 8.3 percent) reported enrollment gains.

Enrollment losses were even worse at some individual community colleges: off 5.4 percent at Parkland College, 11.4 percent at Richland Community College in Decatur, and 15.2 percent at Kaskaskia College in Centralia.

The IBHE offered no prediction on how higher education would fare in the fiscal year 2019 budget, but some higher-education officials in Illinois say they’re afraid there could be another budget deadlock this spring and summer as Rauner and Democrats stake out political positions in advance of the November general election. A report this fall by Rauner’s budget agency claimed that the current year’s budget is about $2 billion out of balance, setting up a fundamental argument over state spending.

Prepaying property taxes

Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch, who will retire this week as the longest-serving treasurer in the county’s history (more than 19 years) is leaving office during an unusually busy period.

His workload isn’t usually this heavy in late December, but the federal tax changes made by Congress this month have meant an uptick in tax payments. Some property owners are prepaying in order to be able to maximize their 2017 income tax deductions.

“The advance payments are coming in hand over fist. Last year, 283 people paid $3.1 million” in advance payments, Welch said.

But through Thursday, $2.9 million had already been collected in advance payments this year.

“We’ve allowed this for as long as I can remember, way before I became treasurer,” he said. “It’s just a matter of if somebody wants to pay in advance, it’s just less that we have to collect later on.”

Welch noted that of the 74,000 owner-occupied properties in Champaign County, 1,256 had property tax bills of more than $10,000.

The new tax bill limits deductions for state and local property, income and sales taxes to $10,000, beginning next year.

Welch said the treasurer’s office will accept prepayments through Dec. 31. Taxpayers can pay a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 110 of last year’s tax bill, he said.

Campaign Christmas gift

One of eight Democrats seeking his party’s nomination for Illinois attorney general, state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood reported on Christmas Eve a $295,000 contribution to campaign fund.

Most of it — $170,000 — came from himself. He also reported $125,0000 from his father, Larry Drury of Highland Park.

Among the other Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general are former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Kawme Raoul, former federal prosecutors Sharon Fairley and Renato Mariotti, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Chicago Park District board President Jesse Ruiz, and Aaron Goldstein, a onetime defense attorney for ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

All eight Democratic candidates are from either Cook or Lake counties.

There are two Republican candidates, Erika Harold of Urbana and Gary Grasso of Burr Ridge, although an objection has been filed to Grasso’s candidate petitions.

Londrigan endorsement

Betsy Londrigan, one of five Democrats seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the 13th Congressional District, has picked up another endorsement: this one from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, who has been called the most liberal Democrat in the Illinois delegation and the 10th most liberal in the entire House.

“Congress needs more women like Betsy Dirksen Londrigan in Congress to help stop the radical agenda pushed by Donald Trump and Paul Ryan,” Schakowsky said.

Londrigan, of Springfield, has also been endorsed by Emily’s List and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

Tom Kacich: UI stands alone with enrollment increase

Our view: Thumbs-down to obstacles to letting the public decide size of their government

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DeKalb police Sgt. Tony Kwasniewski helps 9-year-old Tyjaya Frierson shop during the Heroes and Helpers event Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Target in DeKalb. Thirteen DeKalb police officers volunteered to help with the event, which provided 38 children in DeKalb School District 428 the opportunity to choose and take home more than $100 in Christmas presents each.

Katrina J.E. Milton – kmilton@shawmedia.com

Caption

DeKalb police Sgt. Tony Kwasniewski helps 9-year-old Tyjaya Frierson shop during the Heroes and Helpers event Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Target in DeKalb. Thirteen DeKalb police officers volunteered to help with the event, which provided 38 children in DeKalb School District 428 the opportunity to choose and take home more than $100 in Christmas presents each.

Thumbs-down: To state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock. Reick has filed a bill in Springfield that would make it harder for residents to decide the size and scope of their local government. Reick’s proposal, House Bill 4190, would require township trustees to pay an independent contractor for a cost study before they could ask voters about whether to eliminate township road districts. Reick apparently thinks that an independent contractor needs to give the OK before residents can have a voice in shaping their government. That’s nonsense. This proposal is a transparent attempt to make it more difficult to pare down township government, likely at the behest of officials who work in township government and their political allies. Here’s the truth: Those Illinoisans who haven’t already fled this state are tired of paying high property taxes to support the most units of local government of any state in the nation. We need officials to remove the roadblocks and allow us to decide how many people govern us, and what they are paid to do it. Voters will not approve a ballot initiative that they do not believe will benefit them.

Thumbs-up: To the DeKalb police and Target for the Heroes and Helpers program. With the help of 13 DeKalb police officers, 38 students from DeKalb School District 428 had the opportunity to choose and take home more than $100 in Christmas presents for themselves and their families. The program is a partnership between Target and the DeKalb Police Department’s Benevolent and Protective Association that helps underprivileged children and their families at the holidays. Programs such as these make DeKalb a great community. Thanks to all who contribute.

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Thumbs-up: To a plan to add air conditioning at DeKalb’s Lincoln Elementary School. By the start of the 2018 fall semester, every District 428 classroom will have air conditioning after the district board on Tuesday approved a
$1.1 million bid to install a new boiler and chiller at Lincoln. Students have missed several days of class early in the year because of extreme heat at the school, and the lack of climate control left them on unequal footing with their fellow students. The school year starts earlier than it did in the past, and most people expect to have air conditioning indoors. We’re pleased to see the problem will be resolved and Lincoln students will be able to learn without disruption in a comfortable environment next year.

Thumbs-down: To the continuing brain drain affecting Illinois. Out-of-state schools employ recruiters in Illinois to draw students elsewhere, and the state’s reputation for financial distress has made it a top exporter of students. Since 2015, enrollment at Illinois public universities has fallen by 5 percent, with Northern Illinois University enrollment right in line with that trend, and other universities faring much worse. This bodes ill for Illinois as it seeks to retain an educated workforce.

Our view: Thumbs-down to obstacles to letting the public decide size of their government

New tax may snare U of C—but not Northwestern

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A new tax taking aim at well-funded private colleges and universities may snare one of the Chicago area’s two high-profile universities, at least at first.

In the wake of the tax overhaul passed by Congress yesterday, the University of Chicago would likely have to pay a new 1.4 percent levy on its endowment investment income, but Evanston-based Northwestern would not, under the prospective law’s provisions. That’s because the University of Chicago at the moment exceeds an endowment dollars-per-student ratio threshold, while Northwestern does not, based on recent figures.

Congress said the new tax was warranted because of ballooning endowments at some schools. Detractors, however, attacked it as a harmful blow to educational institutions after House Republicans offered up the idea last month.

“In recent years, the endowment balances at many private colleges and universities have increased dramatically,” says the bill yet to be signed by President Donald Trump. “At the same time, college tuition has risen at rates in excess of the rate of inflation.” It adds that where an endowment is “so large that it is not commensurate with the scope of the institution’s activities in educating students” it’s appropriate to impose a “modest excise tax.”

The University of Chicago’s endowment had $7.5 billion as of June 30, the end of its 2017 fiscal year, up from $7.1 billion for the same period a year earlier, despite the endowment providing 10.5 percent of the school’s operating budget.

For that year, the endowment gained 11.4 percent, after taking into account money manager fees. If the levy had been in effect for that fiscal year, the school’s $798 million in gains would have forced it to fork over about $11.2 million in federal taxes. The new tax is slated to take effect next year.

“This new tax will have a negative effect on the ability of universities to make vital, long-term investments in education and research,” University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier said in a memo to the school’s community yesterday. In a statement a day earlier, University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier also noted: “A number of details are left undefined in the legislation, making it difficult to assess the bill’s full impact.”

Investment returns are a wild card, too. The University of Chicago endowment’s investment return this year was one of its best in more than a decade, with help from a surging U.S. stock market. It easily outstripped the endowment’s 5.4 percent average over 10 years, though it wasn’t far off the 9.1 percent average over 20 years.

The Association of American Universities, which represents 62 of North America’s top research universities—including University of Chicago and Northwestern—said the tax would stunt the country’s advances. “America’s research universities have enabled our country’s rise to global economic and technological preeminence. A federal siphoning of the funds that support student aid programs will make college less affordable and less accessible for our country’s students, undermining our national interest in cultivating an educated, high-skilled workforce,” the association said in a statement yesterday.

U of C would have been caught in the new tax’s dragnet if it was in place this year because its current endowment adds up to more than $500,000 per full-time student equivalent, just barely. Its full-time student count, including undergraduates and graduate students, was 15,302 as of this past autumn. Of course, in other years it could fall below that threshold as its endowment and student population change.

Northwestern has a bigger, $10 billion endowment, according to a statement from the university, but because its student body is larger, with 20,500 full-time student equivalents, it wouldn’t have gotten socked if the tax had been in place this year. That certainly could change, too, as either figure shifts over time.

Fortunately for the universities, other provisions of the bill that would have taxed graduate student tuition waivers, employer reimbursement for tuition and tuition benefits for faculty and staff were cut from the final legislation.

An earlier version of the bill would definitely have rounded up Northwestern, too, with a much lower $250,000-per-student threshold.

Northwestern may have a reprieve now, but it’s bracing for a future hit. “While it looks like the university may have to pay the tax on endowment earnings at some point in the near future, our grad students, faculty and staff will not be adversely affected,” Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage said in a statement this week.

New tax may snare U of C—but not Northwestern