Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation creating a merit-based scholarship program for Illinois students and a task force to help share college and career interest data between high schools and higher education institutions. Both initiatives are products of the Higher Education Working Group focused on making the state’s colleges and universities more affordable and accessible for Illinois students.
“Our future as a state is dependent upon people wanting to live, work and attend school here in Illinois,” Rauner said. “We want to create a place where our young people want to learn and put what they have learned into practice through careers that enrich our economy and make Illinois a better place to live.”
From 1991 to 2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges declined by 50,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. From 2011 to 2016, undergraduate enrollment at Illinois public universities fell 5,127 students, a decline of more than 8 percent.
“For too long, our ‘best and brightest’ have been leaving Illinois,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. “This brain drain and enrollment decline has not only devastated several of our universities and the communities they sit in, it also has hurt Illinois’ future as these students do not return. They instead pay taxes elsewhere, create, invent, and move another state’s economy forward with their work and efforts. People think that this is a new phenomenon. It is not. Demand for public higher education has been sliding for over 25 years, and we have been a net exporter of intellectual talent since the 1970s. It was well past time for the General Assembly to stand up and lead on this issue.”
Senate Bill 2927 creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program, a merit-based scholarship for Illinois students who attend college in-state.
The funds will be disbursed by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to Illinois’ public universities in proportion to their enrollment of undergraduate, in-state students.
Many students in Illinois have family incomes that fall above the threshold necessary to be eligible for MAP and Pell grants, but still cannot afford the full sticker price for in-state institutions.
Institutions will have discretion over the metrics used to award merit-based scholarships to students to meet the individual needs of their campus populations.
No mechanism is currently in place to easily share information about students’ college or career interests between high schools and higher education systems in Illinois.
House Bill 4781 creates a task force to study how students’ college or career interest data can be collected and shared between high schools and higher education institutions.
This data will also allow colleges and universities to enhance their programs and services to support the specific needs of their incoming student cohort through more targeted degree advising and counseling for students.
The task force is required to submit the findings of the study to the General Assembly on or before Jan. 30, 2019, and will be dissolved following the submittal.
The legislation was signed at Papa Del’s restaurant in Champaign.
“Whatever small role that my colleague, State Rep. Dan Brady, and I played when we introduced the Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Act last year in jump starting this conversation, I am humbled that we are today taking action on the most significant higher education reforms in a generation, and that Gov. Rauner chose my alma matter to sign these bills,” Rose said.
“But, frankly, I want to thank the admissions directors from across the state who spent countless hours with our working group explaining the very real competitive pressures they feel every day fighting to keep our state’s top graduates in Illinois.
“The bottom line is these changes will make college more affordable and accessible for students and parents and they are specifically designed to end the brain drain. Students and parents across Illinois should take away this from today: We want you in Illinois. We want you to stay here, get your education here, work here, spend your money here, create, invent, and open new businesses here with your education and talents, and the new four-year MAP program and the AIM HIGH program will help you get that education and accomplish your dreams,” Rose said. “Surrounding states should be on notice — Illinois’ higher education is no longer at a competitive disadvantage, and we are going to fight you tooth and nail to keep every last graduating senior in Illinois!”