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Nearly half of Illinois high school graduates leaving state for 4-year college degrees

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WEEK) — Nearly half of Illinois public high school graduates in 2017 chose an out-of-state school for their four-year college education, according to new data released Tuesday.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education said 48.4 percent of high school graduates enrolling in a four-year university went out-of-state for their education. In 2002, IHBE said only 29.2 percent of high school graduates went out-of-state for their four-year degree. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of four-year students enrolling outside of Illinois rose 1.8 percent.

More than one-fifth of all new high school graduates total in 2017 went out of state for higher education.

Most students headed out of state for a four-year degree aren’t headed far. Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri topped the list for outmigration destinations, with more than 46 percent of students headed outbound going to one of those four states.

The non-profit College Board pegged the average four-year college state tuition and fees in Illinois at $13,970 annually in 2018, versus $9,080 in Iowa, $9,490 in Indiana, $9,080 in Wisconsin, and $8,670 in Missouri. Those numbers do not take differences in cost for in-state versus out-of-state students into account.

The IBHE said state funding for public universities covered 72 percent of costs in fiscal year 2002, versus 35 percent in fiscal year 2018. Tuition now covers 65 percent of total university costs.

“The outmigration trend continues to increase, and that means we’re not only losing students to out-of-state colleges and universities, we’re likely losing them to other states for good. We want to educate our state’s students and see them flourish in jobs here in the Land of Lincoln,” said Nyle Robinson, the interim executive director of IBHE in a press release.

The education advocacy group Stand for Children Illinois agrees, arguing that Illinois students who leave the state for college are less likely to return, creating a “brain drain.”

Eric Lichtenberger, the deputy director of IBHE’s Information Management and Research Division, pinned much of the growth of outmigration on the two-year budget impasse, which stretched for more than two years between 2015 and 2017. He said the outmigration rate spiked from 1.2 percent to 3.7 percent over the impasse’s duration. The trend predates the budget impasse, however.

A handful of Illinois Republicans joined with Illinois Democrats to override former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget veto. Rauner had pushed for a number of reforms before agreeing to sign a budget. Rauner lost his re-election bid in 2018.

The budget impasse made a heavy blow to Illinois higher education funding across the state, with many universities dipping into reserves and relying on stopgap measures to get them through the period of heavily reduced state funding. Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants to Illinois college students in financial need were also imperiled several times throughout the budget impasse’s duration.

At Illinois State University, spending was cut and 75 vacant positions were left vacant or eliminated in 2016 alone. The university’s Small Business Development Center for budding entrepreneurs was also forced to shutter in 2016.

However, ISU came out of the budget impasse in a stronger financial position than many other public universities in the state, with a growing freshman enrollment and robust private fundraising. The university saw a $1.3 million increase in operating appropriations in the 2018-19 school year.

Conversely, more than two years of uncertain state money continues to factor into declining enrollment trends and worrisome financial footing at other public universities across the state. Western Illinois University recently laid off 132 employees due to their current precarious budget situation, with at least one state lawmaker asking the governor for emergency funding to prop up the university’s finances and stave off job cuts.

In an interview in Peoria earlier this month, Pritzker didn’t commit to specific emergency funding for WIU, but said his budget proposal includes a 5 percent ($52 million) increase in funding for all Illinois public universities, as well as $50 million in additional funding for MAP grants and a $35 million boost in AIM HIGH grants targeted at keeping high-achieving students in-state. 

WIU had 9,198 student enrolled in spring 2015, before the budget impasse began. Just 6,656 students are enrolled for the spring 2019 semester. 

ISU President Larry Dietz said in his September 2018 State of the University Address that lobbying state government leaders to introduce a new funding formula for public universities would be one of his top priorities this school year.

“One of my many goals for this year is to convince our state government leaders that true performance-based funding is funding that rewards high-performing universities—those that enroll students who persist, graduate, and get the jobs that make them tax-paying Illinois citizens,” said Dietz in his address last year. “In my five years of attending House and Senate higher education appropriation hearings, my testimony has never included a request for greater and greater amounts of funding. What I have always respectfully requested is a fair, equitable, and predictable formula for the state to support its public universities.”

Dietz appeared before the Illinois Senate’s Appropriations II Committee Tuesday morning.

Tim Shelley

Social Media & Digital Content Manager

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