Illinois students continue to choose out-of-state schools

By Riley Swinford

While it is common for students to leave home when they attend college, recent data shows many Illinois students are not only leaving their homes — they are leaving the state.

Nearly 25 percent of Illinois’ first-time students left the state for college in 2010, according to U.S. Department of Education data. Statistics show the state exported 30,000 first-time freshmen to out-of-state schools that year, which is a 17-percent increase from data the department compiled in 2000, and imported 17,000 students during the same year.

Illinois exports the third-most U.S. college students annually, according to a 2008  National Center for Education Statistics study.


“The Illinois Board of Higher Education is very concerned about students leaving the state in favor of other schools,” said Alan Phillips, IBHE planning and budgeting deputy director. “If we are to have a strong economy in Illinois, it is imperative that we close this skills gap and as students leave the state for other schools, that gap becomes more difficult to close.”

Katharine Suski, university undergraduate admissions director, said the university is concerned about the trend as well. Nearly 16,000 SIU students are from within Illinois, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Studies.

Suski said the growing student export rate could be caused by several factors.

“There are a ton of options for students out there, and Illinois students are very aware of their options,” she said.

Chicago is one of the country’s biggest markets, she said, and the area is recruited by schools nationwide.

Suski said  numbers will be down throughout the state if Illinois institutions lose Chicago market students. Illinois’ central location makes student departure easier, she said, and the state’s unique mid-America location allows students to easily access other states.

According to the Department of Education’s study, more than half of the students who leave Illinois enroll in nearby states’ schools such as Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.


Phillips said other states may also offer better financial packages to students who wish to attend college farther from home.

“In some cases, some students may want to attend other colleges and universities out-of-state to take advantage of programs not offered at Illinois institutions,” he said.

Debbie Lamb, Illinois State University’s senior assistant director of admissions, said ISU’s state enrollment remains consistent with years past. However, Lamb said she could understand why students would leave the state.

“Many students want to go further away from home for the experience,” she said. “Also, college is expensive and students are considering all of their options and are certainly looking at institutions that are able to offer a strong financial aid package.”

Andy Borst, admissions director at Western Illinois University, said WIU has seen its in-state enrollment numbers decline by nearly 1,000 students within the last four years.

However, Phillips said many state schools are working to keep students in Illinois. He said recent funding cuts have made Illinois student recruitment harder, but many public Illinois universities are working to raise additional funds to make up budget shortfalls.

“Illinois colleges and universities are working not only to maintain, but to increase the quality of the programs they offer to Illinois students,” he said. “They are also increasingly leveraging technology to make it easier for Illinois residents to access educational resources necessary to complete a degree program at an Illinois college or university.”

SIU offers many incentives to attract potential students, Suski said. In recent years, the university has implemented in-state tuition rates to neighboring states’ students, offered university alumnis’ children discounts and increased its state recruitment efforts, she said.

Borst said enrollment decline is understandable because of the state’s budget problems.

“As long as the state of Illinois considers higher education as a discretionary expense, we will likely continue to see students leave the state despite having several high quality options within our borders,” he said.