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