CHRONICLE: Illinois colleges still facing brain drain after Rauner’s budget cuts

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“Brain drain” continues to be a troubling issue for Illinois’ state universities and colleges in the aftermath of massive budget cuts and funding uncertainty due to Governor Bruce Rauner’s brutal two-year budget impasse. The impasse has pushed Illinois college students to out-of-state schools in record numbers, which have increased 73 percent since 2000.

A report by the Chicago Tribune found that out-of-state schools are taking advantage of Illinois’ precarious position, recruiting Illinois high schoolers with financial perk. The report wrote, “It adds up to a challenging task for Illinois higher education leaders, who are working to stabilize schools… Illinois funding for basic operations remains precarious. Maintenance and construction work on campuses fall billions of dollars behind schedule, and capital funding has withered. To make up for lost state revenue, tuition and fees have increased significantly over the past several years at the state’s public universities.”

Of Illinois’s 12 state-funded universities, ten experienced declined enrollments in 2017. In addition, the number of Illinois students leaving the state for college has accelerated “during recent years, particularly during the budget impasse,” according to Al Bowman, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and former president of Illinois State University. “It’s deeply troubling and I choose those words carefully,” said Bowman.

While funding and enrollment have been declining for some time, the problem was made dramatically worse by the budget impasse, during which Illinois colleges were forced to institute furloughs, lay off hundreds of staff, raise tuition, and eliminate academic programs.

Governor Rauner however, has yet to address the crisis. Since taking office in 2015, he has cut $2.3 billion from higher education. In July, the Governor vetoed a bill that increased funding for education by $714 million. The bill funded the universities and provided for lower-income student grants, called MAP grants for both FY 2017 and FY 2018.

“The divestment in Illinois public higher education must stop now,” Illinois college presidents recently wrote to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. “The continued lack of support threatens to further erode confidence in the state and its institutions of higher learning.”

In addition to their pleas to the Rauner administration for its support, universities are seeking ways to improve their programming and recruit more students, both in-state and out of state, despite the Governor’s actions.

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