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Editorial: Budget issues cause Illinois ‘brain-drain’

Illinois+State+Capitol+in+Springfield.+%28Chicago+Tribune+file+photo%29
Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

By Herald & Review editorial board

One of the drivers of a healthy economy is an excellent college and university system.

In the past, Illinois has witnessed the advantages of having a mix of public and private universities and community colleges that educate citizens. Major research universities, such as the University of Illinois, can spin off job-producing companies at an astounding rate.

But that system has been one of the many victims of overspending at the state level and the state’s ongoing budget impasse.

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Across the nation, tuition has increased at a rate much higher than inflation. Parents and students who pay college tuition struggle to keep up. Add to that the state’s budget impact on universities and colleges, ranging from a lack of solid funding for the institutions to the uncertainty over MAP grants.

The immediate results are easy to see. Eastern Illinois University in Charleston has said it will lay off hundreds of faculty and staff members. Chicago State University has cancelled spring break and says they are concerned about meeting payroll and other bills for the remainder of the year.

The more far-reaching effect amounts to a “brain drain,” as high school students leave the state for educational opportunities that are less expensive. In fact, a study in 2013 found that nearly 40 percent of the most recent high school graduates left the state to attend college.

At the University of Missouri, 20 percent of the freshman class is made up of Illinois residents. Contemplate that for a moment. Students and parents are finding that it is less expensive, in many cases, to pay out-of-state tuition. That’s especially disheartening if you consider many parents have paid taxes to the public university system for years and will continue to pay into that system long after their children have graduated.

But instead of having their children, or grandchildren, attend college in their home state, they are obligated financially to send them to a neighboring state. Public universities are not blameless. Although there are exceptions, the cost of higher education has been allowed to skyrocket and students, parents and taxpayers have often been treated as if they had bottomless wallets.

So the time is ripe for reform. Universities have to understand that they need to lower their costs or at least maintain the increases to a reasonable level.

State government needs to solve its budget issues and provide a reliable spending plan for universities and community colleges. Financial aid programs, like the MAP grants, need to be stabilized and funded at a level so that students who receive such aid can depend on it.

The biggest problem with students leaving the state is that they often don’t return to the state. Instead they take their knowledge and skills and apply it in the state where they received their college education. It is those states that are benefitting from the bright students that create new companies and new jobs.

The budget issues of the last decade โ€” inability to enact pension reform and unbridled spending โ€” have put higher education in a vulnerable position. This is one of the areas where Illinois needs to invest wisely and keep more Illinois students in the state.

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(c) 2016 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

Visit the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) at www.herald-review.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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