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Letters to the Editor

Higher Ed board: State universities are affordable

The New Year is a time for resolutions, and there is no shortage of political, educational, business and opinion leaders who resolve to catalyze the significant reforms needed to stem the flow of Illinois students to out-of-state colleges and universities. Proposed changes include the consolidation of programs and administrative governance, strengthened institutional commitments to affordability and accessibility, and predictable investment from state government.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) agrees with the urgency for bold initiatives and is poised to play a central role in that change. In 2002, only 29 percent of the four-year-college-going Illinois high school graduates enrolled outside the state, but by 2016, 46 percent of the high school graduates enrolled in out-of-state colleges.áIn the 14 years that passed, our research finds that the rate of out-of-state enrollment increased by more than 57 percent.

IBHE resolves this New Year to serve as a venue for change, where key state higher education leaders, lawmakers and others who desire to restore the prominence of our state’s most precious resource come together. As the statewide coordinating agency for higher education, IBHE can provide reliable data, trustworthy analysis, and direction to facilitate discussions and form alliances to develop strategic goals for high-performing and sustainable institutions.

We will also continue our focus as the state’s lead advocate for Illinois’ public and private colleges and universities, and to that end, we want Illinois students and their families to understand that throughout this organized effort, we remain committed to a statewide system of higher education that is affordable, accessible and innovative.

IBHE has released an analysis showing it is significantly less expensive for an Illinois resident to enroll in-state at one of Illinois’ public universities than at neighboring state colleges and universities. This dispels the myth that it costs more to attend an Illinois public university than it does at a comparable public university in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri or Wisconsin.

Also, Illinois citizens attending Illinois community colleges, public universities, and the majority of private colleges and universities are eligible to be considered for the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP). MAP is recognized as one of the finest need-based grant programs in the country, and the academic success rate for MAP grant scholars is excellent.

Today’s college students can get the degree they desire, close to home, and with the assurance of a successful career right here in Illinois. Cutting-edge academic programs are available to serve recent high school graduates and those who are balancing their education with working, parenting and service to our country. Illinois is a leading state for college completion rates for adult learners and transfer students from community colleges. Our public universities produce more degrees efficiently than their peers and outpace national averages for graduation rates.

We also want to assure families that stable state funding remains in place for the remainder of this fiscal year, and IBHE is preparing its recommendation for an appropriate higher education budget for next year and the years to come that will provide the stability to meet our goals of affordability, accessibility and innovation.

Tom Cross, Oswego, and Al Bowman, Bloomington

Note to readers: Tom Cross is chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Al Bowman, Ph.D., is IBHE executive director.

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