Illinois has the second-highest rate nationally of college freshmen choosing to leave the state to pursue higher education — a mark it hit even before the state’s two-year budget impasse — and preliminary figures this fall suggest the numbers continue to look grim.
Between 2000 and 2014, when the out-migration hit an all-time high, the number of freshmen leaving Illinois to attend college shot up by about 64 percent, according to a study earlier this year by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Only New Jersey, which also has had state budget woes, exceeded Illinois in loss of students to out-of-state schools.
The trend was even more pronounced among students attending four-year colleges and universities. Of those freshmen, nearly half chose to attend out of state schools in 2015.
That all-time high was hit even before the state’s colleges and universities weathered the effects of a two-year state budget impasse, which left institutions cutting budgets and programs and put financial aid for thousands of students on hold or in limbo.
But as colleges report preliminary enrollment figures this fall, the numbers suggest that the deadlock only accelerated the trend, which has been fueled by a combination of state financial problems, population shifts and aggressive recruitment by competing states.
Enrollment was down this fall at public schools across the state with the exception of a 2 percent increase at the University of Illinois’ campus in Urbana-Champaign and a 5 percent increase at U of I Chicago, based on preliminary estimates from IBHE. Enrollment dropped by double digits at Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Enrollment at the University of Illinois Springfield campus was down 8.7 percent compared with 2016 to 4,956.
Tom Cross, a veteran Republican legislator named in IBHE chairman in 2016, says the impasse “caused a form of paralysis.”
Costs are factor. A recently completed IBHE analysis of basic tuition and fees for 2016-2017 at U of I in Champaign, University of Chicago and Illinois State University in Normal were significantly below costs at Indiana University, Purdue University and University of Missouri, three schools that compete for Illinois students. But the report noted 66 percent of students at the competing schools receive some type of tuition discount, compared with 59 percent at the Illinois schools.
After discounts, according to the IBHE study, in-state undergraduates paid $8,797 on average compared with $19,522 paid by Illinois undergraduates at the out-of-state schools. Those figures, though are averages — and schools in adjoining states have been especially aggressive in recruiting high academic achievers and offering them competitive financial packages.
“I think we almost have to do a public relations campaign to let people know what the truth is,” Cross said. “We have good schools, and we are very competitive.”
Leaving and not coming back
The out-migration issue has potential long-term effects for Illinois. Students who leave Illinois for school are less likely to return to the state for jobs, the IBHE report found. One-third of those who leave for college take out-of-state jobs, according to the study, compared with less than 10 percent of students who graduate from Illinois schools.
Another source of concern is the report’s finding that the highest achieving high-school graduates were most likely to leave Illinois for college.
Much of the recent blame has fallen on the two-year, spending deadlock between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature.
In 2014, nearly 33,700 Illinois students decided to leave the state — compared to only 20,507 who did in 2000. Meanwhile, the number of in-state freshmen at Illinois public colleges kept dropping, from 97,001 in 2000 to a then- all-time low of 82,455 by 2014.
Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio were the top outbound destinations.
At Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, guidance counselors have been seeing an increased interest in students going out of state for college. Though the majority of graduating seniors from SHG still attend in-state schools, interest has definitely shifted to the University of Missouri, St. Louis University, Indiana University and the University of Kentucky, said Leslie Seck, SHG’s director of student and family services.
Part of the shift is coming from parents. When teens discuss their college plans with their families, parents cite concerns over the political climate in Illinois, most especially the budget gridlock.
“I think there have been concerns because of the budget impasse,” said Theresa Duffin, SHG’s coordinator of college counseling. “Because (parents) read about the state institutions in the the newspaper, there are concerns.”
Colleges try to fight back
Illinois schools are responding. Presidents of three Illinois university systems — Tim Killeen from the U of I, Southern Illinois’ Randy Dunn and Eastern Illinois’ David Glassman — last month hit the road themselves to make a pitch for in-state schools directly to 170 of the most promising high school students from central and southern Illinois.
The event focused on top academic performers.
The “Salute to Illinois Scholars,” held in Mount Vernon, was a first-time event traditionally hosted by U of I in Chicago. Downstate schools were added this year in view of out-migration trends and the uncertainty resulting from the budget deadlock.
As an incentive, the schools offered to waive application fees.
“In my keynote, we talked about the budget (impasse) and that we know that some high-school counselors, and some people in the state, are questioning whether it’s a good idea to stay in Illinois,” said Barbara Wilson, executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the University of Illinois System.
“We told them we have a budget now, we’re all doing well,” said Wilson. “We have plans to move ahead on strategic goals.”
— Voice Editor Carla Jimenez contributed to this article. Contact Tim Landis: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1536, http://twitter.com/timlandisSJR.
Programs, money, word of mouth fuel students’ decisions to depart Illinois
Jenna Tansky knew she would likely leave Illinois to pursue her love of dance in college.
The 21-year-old Dawson native currently studies dance at Southeast Missouri State University. She takes modern, jazz, ballet and tap at the university’s new River Campus.
Tansky, who has been dancing since she was 5 years old, first heard about the school from a girl she used to dance with at the Kinner and Company Dance Studio.
“A girl from my hometown dance studio went to SEMO … and she knew about the River Campus and the dance program they have there, and she told me about it,” Tansky said. “After that, I just went and toured and really liked it there. So I chose to go there.”
As more Illinois students choose to enroll in out-of-state schools, colleges in neighboring states have been attracting the largest numbers. According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the top out-of-state destinations in 2014 were the University of Missouri, the University of Iowa, Indiana University and Iowa State University.
SEMO, however, has also seen a sharp uptick in the number of incoming students from Illinois. According to the office for Enrollment Management and Student Success, there were 674 Illinois freshmen at SEMO in 2007, which accounted for 7.33 percent of all freshmen. In 2016, that number nearly doubled to 1,241 and 11.61 percent.
Debbie Below, SEMO’s vice president for enrollment management and student success, said the university has an enrollment presence in surrounding states, but they have two admissions officers for Illinois — compared to just one officer covering Kentucky and Tennessee.
“Student recruitment has changed,” Below said. “Digital marketing is very important, but so is face-to-face recruitment.”
Tansky’s aspirations took her out of state for college, and she’s one of many young people who have left Illinois to attend school. Their reasons all vary: Some of them consider out-of-state schools for financial reasons. Some of them leave because another school has a better program. Some leave because they just want to get away from home for a while.
Tansky wanted to see what life was like away from her small hometown.
She was one of 41 students in her graduating class at Tri-City High School, where she was salutatorian. She said she knew pretty much her whole life that she wanted to dance, but she also wanted to go out of state.
Another reason for the increased presence of Illinois students is the comparable tuition. SEMO offers an academic scholarship called the Midwest Achievement Award, which offers in-state tuition to out-of-state students who have a 21 on their ACT and a 3.0 high school grade-point average.
The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is considerable: Those who qualify for the award pay $6,183 per semester, while those who don’t pay $11,718.
Tansky qualified for the award, which was another reason SEMO was a good choice for her.
“(The scholarship) was a big thing for me to be able to afford going out of state,” she said.
Below said while she likes to believe that SEMO’s academic program and facilities are the biggest draws for Illinois students, she also understands that the state’s political situation might be a factor as to why they keep leaving.
“I would like to think the university is putting that best effort forward,” she said. “I certainly understand that the budget situation has created a bit of a challenge for Illinois students … But I do think it’s more that as we enroll students, they go and tell their friends and they go and recommend their experience.”
Jessica Maron, a 20-year-old Bloomington native studying English at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, has been keeping track of Illinois’ political situation from afar.
“Our government seems to be going through a very tough time,” she said. “I would not put the full blame on the Illinois government. I know that there’s been a mess, but the mess is coming from the financial gap.”
Maron, who attended Normal Community High School, has also noticed the large exodus of Illinois students into neighboring states. Columbia is also home to the University of Missouri, where many of her former high school classmates attend.
“If I walked onto Mizzou campus and threw a rock, I’d probably hit one of my former classmates,” she said.
— Carla Jimenez
Springfield’s challenge: How to lure students to come back home
Attracting and keeping young professionals has been high on the list of a variety of economic-development strategies in Springfield.
Students who leave Illinois to attend college are less likely to come back to work and live than their counterparts who attend in-state schools. A little more than 90 percent of students who attend Illinois schools eventually go-to-work in the state, compared with two-thirds of students who attend out-of-state schools, according to a study by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
One way to reverse the trend is to catch students early and often, starting in high school, according to coordinators at the Quantum Growth Partnership, the chief economic-development campaign of The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
There has been an even greater emphasis as demographics from studies from the last two years show slow growth and an aging population over the next decade.
“It’s something we definitely are aware of. We’re always looking at the numbers,” said Sarah Graham, chamber director of workforce development. “We want to help them see the career opportunities in Springfield.”
Strategies include career-assessment software, social media outreach, internships, job shadowing and leadership training programs. Graham said the chamber is exploring the possibility of extending the program to middle schools.
Springfield native Caitlin Simhauser graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2009 with a degree in marketing. After stops in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, she returned to Springfield in 2011 to take a job with pharmaceutical wholesaler H.D. Smith Co. of Springfield, where she is a senior marketing coordinator.
Simhauser works with Elevate Springfield, a networking initiative of the chamber to promote the city to young professionals.
“Living in Lexington (Kentucky), Nashville and Austin, I was exposed to energetic and progressive cities and peoples, lots of outdoor recreation, vibrant food and music scenes, and niche industries,” Simhauser said in an email.
Springfield could do a better job of promoting itself to young professionals, said Simhauser, including by focusing on the downtown historic-commercial district as a center for arts, entertainment, niche shopping and food.
“Some say there’s nothing to do in Springfield, but I’d argue that maybe you just don’t know where to look,” said Simhauser. “Springfield has its own unique culture, opportunities and vibes.”
— Tim Landis
Public sector uncertainty affects private schools
Private universities did not escape the damage from a two-year state budget deadlock.
“It was devastating to all universities, public and private,” said David Tretter, president of The Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities.
Data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which tracks public and private enrollment, showed 263,354 students attending not-for-profit and for-profit private schools in the fall of 2016. The figure was little changed from 2015. The number, however, was down 9.1 percent from 2012.
Tretter said uncertainty in the public-school sector spills over to private schools. The association represents 60 private colleges and universities.
“It’s kind of baked into their thinking,” said Tretter. “A parent or a student is looking ahead one or two or four years. It’s really given those folks a lot of pause in looking at their options.”
Grants through the state-funded Monetary Assistance Program were caught up in the budget impasse. The income-based grants, which can be used at approved private schools are a key source of funding for Illinois students who might not otherwise to able to afford college. MAP funding was approved for the fiscal year that ends in June 2018, but Tretter said it would take time to undo the uncertainty that faced college-bound students and parents.
Blackburn College, a small private liberal arts school in Carlinville, last month announced that qualified Macoupin County high-school students could attend the school free through the new Macoupin Promise program.
Students must meet normal admission standards, participate in the school work program and live in households with family income less than $60,000 a year. The program also is aimed at keeping graduates in Macoupin County.
Tretter said he expects similar creative efforts among private schools statewide as a way to counteract the uncertainty left by the two-year budget deadlock.
“It’s was a predicable consequence,” said Tretter. “We need predicable funding and, yes, you can’t go two years without a budget.”
— Tim Landis