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Where Have All the Illinois Students Gone? Chances Are, Out of State

One state expert believes Illinois is now losing more than half of its high school graduates to colleges and universities out of state.

According to the Illinois Board of HIgher Education, 29%
of Illinois graduates left our state for a four year institution elsewhere in 2002.

As of fall 2017, it’s 48.4 % of our public high school grads choosing to pick up and move.

When you add in private school grads, the number climbs above 50%, said Nyle Robinson, interim director at IBHE.

“Stability is the most important thing,” Robinson said.
“We are trying to overcome some significant problems.”

IBHE often cites the two year state budget impasse as one of the biggest problems and finds our public universities are receiving just 74% of the state funds they were getting in 2002.

Since then, Illinois has watched 65% more public high school grads head out of state.

Here’s where they’re going:
In the most recent stats from fall 2017 the 10 states that saw the largest growth percentage in new students from Illinois heading to their four year schools are:
Ohio, Minnesota, Alabama, Florida, then California, along with the usual with the border states of Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and Michigan.

Iowa 12.8 %
Indiana 12.3 %
Wisconsin 12 %
Missouri 10.1 %
Michigan 7.5 %
Ohio 5.5%
Minnesota 2.9 %
Alabama 2.8 %
Florida 2.6 %
California 2.4 %

2015-2017 Top 10 States for growth in Illinois public high school grads going to 4 year schools, in sheer students added.

Indiana 494
Michigan 362
Alabama 154
Iowa 143
California 136
Florida 110
DC 107
Georgia 102
New York 101
Colorado 98
Source: IBHE

This spring in Macomb, Western Illinois University leaders are stuck subtracting.

In March, administrators laid off 132 people, including 29 faculty members.

That followed another 24 staff members released last summer.

The issue is massive reductions in state funding and student population.

“Enrollment and recruitment right now is our primary concern at the University. And it’s something that we’re focused on daily,” said Dr. Ronald Williams, VP of Student Services.

He sees fewer high school grads coming out of their neighboring 16 counties and fewer students coming down from Chicago.

“It’s just, it’s just a tough spot,” Williams said.

Kole Shuda, a senior at WIU would agree.

“But it is something you can’t ignore. I do see less people,” Shuda said.

Still, he plans to stay and get his degree next month.

“But there’s also that pull of, you know, wanting to leave just because everything seems like it’s going to bottom out.”

When asked if he felt he would have to leave the state after graduating, Shuda said, “Yes.”

In just four years, spring 2015 to spring 2019, WIU has lost 29% of its full-time student population.

Sherman Hall is part of the original school, which opened in 1902.

And the Fighting Leathernecks leadership housed there vow the school is not finished.

‘In five years, Western Illinois is still here. It’s here. It will be thriving,” Williams said. “Certainly, Western’s experiencing some challenges. We did just have to have some layoffs. And we do have enrollment issues. But we’re here. We’re focused. We’re turning a corner. We’re trying to move forward in a positive direction. And the enrollment will increase. I am confident that WIU will continue to be here in five years and beyond.”

But he admits they have to fight now for every dollar and student.

One way they may choose to compete is to offer free books to incoming freshmen and a legacy scholarship discount to students whose parents went to Western. All told, that might be worth some $2,000 a year to a student.

But, local high school students tell 25News, that’s not enough to keep them in Illinois.

“No, honestly I’d like to go further from home,” said Sondra Gnehm, a junior at East Peoria high school.

Same for another, fellow junior.

“Because my mind’s set. I’m already wanting to go out. It would have to change my mindset,” said Jake Huff

Of the four students we spoke with, most said the tuition numbers here don’t add up and they’re looking west.

“I want to go further away from home. I want to go out of state,” said Dawson Dobbelaire, a senior who plans to go to Arizona State in the fall, “It’s just Arizona. Everything’s good in Arizona.”

Dobbelaire said he compared ASU to the University if Illinois, Chicago for biomedical sciences.
He was disappointed that ASU offered a better deal.

“A little bit. Because that was one of my top three schools,” Dobbelaire said, given his 28 score on the ACT and 3.8 overall grade point average.

In fact, administrators say all four are good students, but not academic superstars with a 1600 on the SAT.
They should be perfect for a state college.

Two told us they would not go to an Illinois institution,
almost regardless of the scholarship.

Two of the four said that Illinois schools still had a chance to keep them.

One of the four said their families were still making an effort to keep them in state Illinois.

But they all agreed they will leave college with student debt.

For three of them, paying $24,000 a year at, say ISU or $36,000 thousand a year at the University of Illinois at Chicago doesn’t seem as sensible as moving out.

“I think it was 4 or 5,000 dollars more to attend..UIC versus ASU,” Dobbelaire said.

Of the four in our group, only Maddie Inman plans to stay as an ISU Redbird and future lawyer.

“I just felt like I would be more successful at college with my family closer to home,” Inman said, currectly a senior at East Peoria high,

Oddly, all three of her fellow students seem headed to Arizona State.

And, all three told us that once they move, they believe their families will follow them.

“Arizona (State) has sent me quite a few things,” Gnehm said,

Her mother, an East Peoria high administrator, sees Illinois continuing to lose by comparison.

They’ve found that sending Sondra to a Pac-12 school
like ASU is more economical than getting an education among the cornfields of illinois.

“Quite often it’s cheaper to go out of state,” Carol Gnehm said. “They need to bump it up. (in Illinois) It was upsetting as a parent. Because you are paying the taxes for Illinois. And you’re hoping that you would have a decent price for a good education for your child.”

Governor JB Pritzker is asking for another $50 million dollars for higher education plus $25 million for Aim High grants to retain good, Illinois students.

Even at ISU, where enrollment has been perfectly steady for 10 years, they’re offering new scholarships this fall.

A full ride for five applicants with impressive civic engagement credentials and another full tuition for 5-10 McLean county grads.

“I think you just have to constantly evaluate what’s important to your students, what’s important to your families? So, affordability is always a topic of conversation,” said Jana Albrecht, Associate VP of enrollment management. “But, for the majority of our students, when we compare financial aid packages, we’re very affordable. Typically we have around 80-83% of our students that will receive some sort of need based or merit based aid.”

She is aware of the enrollment drop at WIU and the gains made by other states.

“Because, all in all, I think all of us would say that we want students to stay in Illinois. You know, regardless of what institution they pick.
But there have been more out of state schools that have been creeping into that top 100 over the last four or five years.”

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is growing with enrollment is up by more than 11,000 students since 2002.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is also seeing more modest enrollment gains over the past four years.

Bradley, though was down more than 200 students as of this fall.

Tyler Lopez

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