Editorial: Follow working group’s lead, remake higher-ed

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A bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers has quietly introduced a package of bills to reverse the costly brain-drain at public colleges and universities, and lift up financially struggling institutions.

The half dozen bills presented by the 12-person bipartisan, bicameral working group also are designed to do the same for Illinois, sponsors say. Illinois Rep. Chris Welch, D-Chicago, told reporters Tuesday, “We believe that in order to fix the Illinois economy, we have to do it through our higher education system.”

That starts with a package of smart reforms we hope will infuse new life in a system bleeding thousands of Illinois’ brightest and best high school graduates. It’s a trend Illinois cannot afford to continue. Consider, Welch said, that 90 percent of students who go to school out of state will stay there to raise families, pay taxes, and build communities.

And what about those who opt not to go to college at all?

“Several of our public university presidents told us that their biggest competitor is nowhere,” Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said. “These are students who gain admission to Illinois public universities but come fall they don’t matriculate to the public university to which they gained acceptance, nor to a community college. They don’t go to any two- or four-year institution.” That results in lost potential for the would-be student and the state.

None of the ideas for fixing what’s broken are new or radical. All have been on higher-ed’s wish list, and have won support in at least one legislative chamber. What’s different here is the comprehensive, inclusive and bipartisan approach lawmakers and higher education stakeholders have taken to create these concrete, common-sense action steps.

Members hope to duplicate the success of a similar collaborative, collegial process used to win a long-awaited, desperately needed law creating a fairer school funding system.

Higher-ed working group members clearly are high on the process, and on what they promise will be an ongoing effort. Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, called it “an example of how much you can get done when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

Illinoisans know well what happens when credit matters more than anything. We continue to pay the price every day for a purely political and wholly unnecessary two-year budget impasse.

One day working group members envision duplicating their collaborative model on large issues that have been impossible to tackle in today’s politically charged, deeply divided environment.

But first, their focus is on this package of higher-ed bills designed to spark an all-out effort to remake Illinois’ higher education system into one of the best in the nation.

It includes a $25 million pilot program to provide scholarships to Illinois public colleges and universities for Illinois citizens of modest means, with eligible GPAs and test scores, who would otherwise have chosen an out-of-state school or not gone to college at all. It is the only bill in the package that carries a significant price tag. It’s also one of the most important since it will directly impact whether some students will leave Illinois never to return.

Equally important is the bill expanding MAP grant awards from yearly to four years to allow Illinois schools to compete with out-of-state schools that dangle four-year guaranteed scholarships as leverage.

Other measures are aimed at ensuring Illinois transfer students don’t waste their time and finances on unnecessary classes, and at giving institutions more freedom to award scholarships where they are needed and to launch critical capital projects.

In all, the package deserves and requires a deep dive by lawmakers. We urge them to plunge in, with this caveat: Continue as the working group has begun — no showboating or grandstanding, just policy making. Rescuing higher education simply is too important to our state and our young people to do it any other way.

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June 1, 2018 at 06:55AM

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Editorial: Follow working group’s lead, remake higher-ed

Lawmakers introduce higher education makeover

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Lawmakers introduce higher education makeover

Posted:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 5:25 PM EDT

Updated:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 6:07 PM EDT

SPRINGFIELD — A group of lawmakers introduced a package of bills to remodel higher education in Illinois.

The group said the bills will reinvigorate Illinois’ economy and bolster the state’s colleges and universities.

The group of lawmakers includes both Democrats and Republicans.

They say they were encouraged to work together after the budget compromise last year, and they feel like their package will ultimately help students perform better and save universities time and money.

"We believe that in order to fix the Illinois economy, we have to do it through our higher education system," Rep. Chris Welch (D-Chicago) said.

Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) sponsored SB2969, a bill allowing universities to borrow more money for deferred maintenance, or routine construction work that should’ve been done a while ago.

"This really, to me, is an example of how much you can get done when nobody cares who gets the credit," Schimpf said.

The bill extending the MAP grants, HB5020, would cover a student making the transition from a community college to a university. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Champaign) said it’ll help keep Illinois high school graduates in the state.

Most of the bills have passed one chamber of the legislature already and no lawmaker has voted against any of the measures yet.

The legislative deadline is Thursday.

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May 29, 2018 at 10:16PM

Lawmakers introduce higher education makeover

#3306 – Budget Progress & Higher Education Reform | Illinois Lawmakers

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Capitolfax.com’s Rich Miller leads off this week’s Illinois Lawmakers with host Jak Tichenor as lawmakers appear closer to finalizing a budget for next fiscal year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Don Harmon (D) Oak Park and Rep. Tim Butler (R) Springfield tell Tichenor they are optimistic the General Assembly can pass a balanced budget by the May 31st adjournment date.  Later, House Higher Education Committee Chairman Emanuel Chris Welch (D) Hillside and Assistant Senate Republican Leader Chapin Rose (R) Mahomet discuss short and long-term plans for growing enrollment at Illinois public universities as part of a bipartisan, bicameral higher education working group.

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May 26, 2018 at 09:33AM

#3306 – Budget Progress & Higher Education Reform | Illinois Lawmakers

What is in store for the future of higher education in Illinois?

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Rick Pearson is joined by the Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and Democratic State Rep. Chris Welch of Hillside on higher education stability. Chris discusses the continued problems that plague the state’s colleges and universities as a result of the 2 year state budget impasse and the possibility of a long-term fix.

http://serve.castfire.com/audio/3497499/3497499_2018-04-29-095539.64kmono.mp3?ad_params=zones%3DPreroll%7Cstation_id%3D3784.mp3


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April 29, 2018 at 09:03AM

What is in store for the future of higher education in Illinois?

What is in store for the future of higher education in Illinois?

https://ift.tt/2HBBgNa

Rick Pearson is joined by the Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and Democratic State Rep. Chris Welch of Hillside on higher education stability. Chris discusses the continued problems that plague the state’s colleges and universities as a result of the 2 year state budget impasse and the possibility of a long-term fix.

http://serve.castfire.com/audio/3497499/3497499_2018-04-29-095539.64kmono.mp3?ad_params=zones%3DPreroll%7Cstation_id%3D3784.mp3


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via The Sunday Spin: Politics with Rick Pearson – WGN Radio – 720 AM http://wgnradio.com

April 29, 2018 at 09:03AM

What is in store for the future of higher education in Illinois?

Guest View: Investment needed to improve higher education in Illinois

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The Democratic and Republican primaries are over, thankfully, for many of us. But as the candidates transition into a new gear of spending and inundating us with numbers and claims about each other, we should be closely watching what’s happening to our state’s higher education system.

We cannot escape the reality facing Illinois: People are leaving, in droves. The more our political leaders fight, the more uncertainty and angst is created, and the easier it is for talented workers and their families to find somewhere else to call home.

The same holds true for our college and university students, and sadly, it has for some time. As our state grinds further into fiscal disaster, what’s left behind is a sad tale of exodus:

* In 2002, 29 percent of our college-going high school graduates enrolled out of state. By 2016, that number had grown to 46 percent — nearly half of eligible Illinois high school grads choosing to go anywhere but Illinois for college.

* In 2011, almost 880,000 students were enrolled in Illinois higher education. Just five years later, in 2016, that number had dropped by 100,000 students, or nearly a 12 percent drop.

Why are our college students fleeing? Higher education critics, from policymakers to parents, will claim the cost is too high and our campuses haven’t adapted quickly enough to our ever-evolving economy. One other important number is critically important here: Once adjusted for inflation, state funding for higher education operations (not including pensions) has dropped by $1 billion over the last 15 years.

We cannot pretend that a significant disinvestment in our crown jewel of higher education has not contributed to the challenges of cost, innovation and, most important, a growing perception that students can fare better elsewhere. These draconian cuts, to both student aid and institutions, have created a de facto policy that encouraged our best and brightest to leave. And with every student that leaves — almost 170,000 of them over that five-year period — it should be no surprise that our Illinois higher education rankings slipped from the top to the middle of the pack.

Understand the practical and wide-reaching effects of the exodus of college students. Many college-aged students who do come here from other states for their degrees are just visiting. We don’t have the warm weather of Florida, or the mountain hiking of Colorado, or the lure that other states can offer. So if we cannot keep our students here, and we lose others who graduate and head back home, where will we get our next generation of nurses and doctors, classroom teachers, and skilled engineers to plan our roads and infrastructure?

Our high-quality system of community colleges and public and private universities provide many wonderful choices for Illinois residents now, guides them through completing a degree at nationally high rate, and could do so much more if state government embraced the possibilities instead of thwarting them. The 2.5-year budget stalemate, where higher education was a primary victim, provided a window into the harm done to our students and our institutions.

Illinois colleges and universities employ 175,000 Illinoisans and produce an annual economic benefit of $50 billion, far more return on the state’s investment of less than $2 billion. Our campuses outperform virtually any other area of state investment because of outside private and federal investment, further driven by the high priority businesses place on developing and utilizing a skilled workforce when they invest and locate here.

We need a statewide comprehensive road map for improving higher education that recognizes we have helped create this problem, and can only turn it around through real investment and improved performance. I’m encouraged a bipartisan group of legislators has come together to work on this road map. My challenge to all of our leaders is to make higher education a priority on the campaign trail and at the Capitol, and not just a talking point in the latest ad buy.

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

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April 10, 2018 at 08:16PM

Guest View: Investment needed to improve higher education in Illinois

Proposed $107 billion bond isn’t the cure for Illinois’ public pension crisis

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A big, bold plan to save the state’s debt-strapped public pension funds is being floated this week in Springfield. But don’t get your hopes up.

It’s not the cure to Illinois’ festering financial crisis.

An influential state employee advocacy group, the State Universities Annuitants Association, is urging Illinois to issue $107 billion in bonds to pay off shortfalls in the state’s five leading pension funds.

Yep, that’s a whopping $107 billion — backed by taxpayers who will be on the hook, especially if this deal goes bad. And the odds of that occurring look pretty good.

“It’s a big gamble,” says Howard Cure, director of municipal bond credit research for Evercore Wealth Management in New York.

While full details of this plan are expected to be unveiled Tuesday before a state panel, bond and public finance experts are already highly skeptical. They’re concerned it will add to Illinois’ pension burdens — now estimated at $130 billion in unfunded liabilities and growing — and further hinder the state’s sorry overall financial health.

Let’s start with the bond market.

At $107 billion in 27-year fixed-rate bonds, it would be the largest amount of debt the state ever sought from investors. Bond experts wonder if Illinois — with its record of political dysfunction, inability to pay its bills in a timely way and $25 billion in general obligation debt — will attract enough hungry investors.

One way to lure wary backers is to spice up the bonds and sell them at above-market interest rates. Such a premium would likely attract risk-taking investors, probably from overseas funds, or deep-pocketed individuals hoping to make a killing.

But higher rates are tougher to pay off and investors’ bond payments must be paid on time, says Evercore’s Cure. Missing a debt payment means riling angry bondholders, who could quickly sue the state or take other legal actions to recoup their investments, he adds.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation — a nonpartisan government research group — says his organization has “serious concerns and reservations” about the proposed bond effort too.

On top of the gargantuan amount, the bond is limited to pensions and not linked to any comprehensive financial plan for improving state finances, Msall asserts. The bond’s size could also impede the state’s ability to seek borrowing or bond financing for infrastructure or other basic needs, he says.

Despite these somber concerns, no one should be beating up on the State Universities Annuitants Association, which represents more than 200,000 current and retired employees, for leading this charge.

The group believes many initial concerns will be addressed when it reveals the details of its plan to the General Assembly committee exploring public pension matters. It will argue that its refinancing proposal will lop $103 billion off state pension costs through 2045 while increasing the pensions’ funding levels to 90 percent.

Rep. Robert Martwick, the Chicago Democrat who heads the House pension committee, has no position on the bond plan but wants it to become part of a larger pension reform debate. In the coming weeks, the $107 billion initiative will be fully discussed by finance experts, labor and taxpayer advocates, he stresses.

Of course, when it comes to Illinois’ public pension crisis, there’s no shortage of issues to chew over.

Government leaders have been doing that for way too many years with few results, mainly because of state underfunding of pensions, feisty union opposition and a provision in the state constitution that prohibits any structural changes to the funds or benefits.

Those who want to totally dump public pension plans haven’t had any better luck getting around that provision.

It’s a nasty trick bag because, in the meantime, the amount of public pension liabilities keeps stacking up and strapped taxpayers are increasingly responsible for paying more.

It’s a mess.

But this big, bold but flawed bond plan isn’t the solution to the public pension crisis.

We can’t be that desperate.

roreed@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ReedTribBiz

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January 30, 2018 at 05:42AM

Proposed $107 billion bond isn’t the cure for Illinois’ public pension crisis