The U.S. Census Bureau recently revealed that Illinois, in its third consecutive
year of population decline, is losing more people than any other state in the
The state has also been unpopular with students since at least the start of the
21st century. According to data from the National Center for Education
Statistics, Illinois likely lost more than 150,000 students, on net, to other
states from 2000 to 2014. The data, which look at the migration of freshmen or
first-time degree seeking students at all institutions each even-numbered year,
show that Illinois lost an average of more than 10,000 students per year. Only
New Jersey, which significantly lacks enough universities to accommodate all of
its students, lost more than Illinois.
In addition, the New York Times reported that in 2014, 16,000 students left
Illinois to attend public university in another state, while only 2,000 came to
Illinois from out of state to attend public university. That means that for each
public university student Illinois gained, it lost eight.
Illinois’ public universities have drastically redirected state funding away
from students in recent years, choosing instead to spend the bulk of tax dollars
on administrators and pensions. Thus, prioritization of state funding, rather
than a lack thereof, is largely responsible for diminished investment in
higher-education operating costs over the years. The state now spends more than
50 percent of its public universities’ budget for on higher-education retirement
costs, up from 20 percent a decade ago.
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This same spending conundrum faces all educational funding in
Illinois. Investments in students and institutions come second to
retirement payouts. State spending on higher-education operations is
decreasing while funds are being radically shifted toward
higher-education retirement costs. If retirement payments weren’t so
out of control – in 2014, the highest-paid pension recipient
received more than half a million dollars in annual retirement
compensation – universities could perhaps afford to put more money
into the classrooms.
Meanwhile, Illinois’ tuition rates have skyrocketed almost 100
percent over the past decade. University of Illinois’ in-state
tuition is now almost $6,000 higher than both University of
Indiana’s and University of Wisconsin’s, and $8,000 higher than
University of Iowa’s. And reciprocity agreements allow Midwestern
students to attend certain universities in participating states at
in-state tuition rates. It’s no wonder students are leaving
Students are no doubt contributing to Illinois’ out-migration woes,
but this is not a new phenomenon the budget impasse created.
Insufficient state funding is not an adequate explanation for
Illinois’ student out-migration. The redistribution of
higher-education funds over the past decade is also a major factor.
In order to bring students back to the Land of Lincoln, public
universities need to make serious spending reforms, and Springfield
must end the uncertainty by agreeing to a balanced budget.
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