As part of a bipartisan effort to make Illinois’ colleges and universities more affordable and accessible for Illinois students, measures sponsored by Senator Chapin Rose (Mahomet) were signed into law this week 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.
“For too long, our ‘best and brightest’ have been leaving Illinois,” said Chapin Rose. “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.”
Because many Illinois students 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, Senate Bill 2927 creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program. AIM HIGH is a merit-based scholarship seeking to make the state’s world-class institutions more affordable for Illinois student and more competitive with out-of-state institutions.
An initiative of the Higher Education Working Group, the pilot program was allocated $25 million in state funding in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget to be matched by universities. This will allow for a scholarship pool of at least $50 million in merit-based aid to be distributed by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to Illinois’ public universities in proportion to their enrollment of undergraduate, in-state students.
Institutions will have discretion over the metrics used to award merit-based scholarships to students to meet the individual needs of their campus populations.
“The AIM High grant program is one of several new initiatives designed to slow the out-migration of Illinois students,” said Illinois Board of Higher Education Executive Director Al Bowman. “It makes sense, given competition from out-of-state schools, to offer additional merit-based scholarships so that more families see our universities as affordable. This will also help us attract some of the state’s high school graduates who are contemplating not going to college at all because of cost.”
Another new law was introduced to better identify what Illinois students prioritize with regard to college or their future career. Because no mechanism currently exists 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.
Illinois has long been the second largest exporter of high school students in the country, and when Illinois high school students leave us for college, they seldom return. House Bill 4781 seeks to unite educational institutions and interest groups to better understand how to share relevant information on students’ needs and goals in an effort to attract—and keep—this students in Illinois.
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.
Both bills are products of the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group, whose work includes legislation signed by Rauner earlier this month that gives priority to returning MAP grant students and streamlines licensing for teachers.
“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!”
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.