College students were fleeing Illinois long before the budget impasse

College students were fleeing Illinois long before the budget impasse

Illinois lost 195,000 more college-bound students than it gained from 2000-2014.

Here’s something you won’t read in the headlines about the financial crisis at Illinois’ universities: Illinois’ college-bound students were fleeing the state long before the budget impasse began.

That’s right. All the political screeching you hear about students leaving Illinois comes from voices that were totally silent when college-bound students began leaving decades ago.

The problem became significantly worse before Governor Bruce Rauner even took office, and long before the budget impasse began.

Illinoisans don’t need more complaints from pols who just want to spend. Illinoisans need innovative leaders who will find a way to get students a better education at a lower cost. The future of the state depends on it.

Illinois lost 195,000 more college-bound students than it gained from 2000-2014, a stunning rate of 13,000 college-bound students per year.

Back in the year 2000 the problem was bad enough, with Illinois losing 10,000 more college-bound students than it gained. But fast-forward to 2014, and the loss rate accelerated to 17,000 students per year.

This crisis started brewing years ago. Tuition has been creeping up and job opportunities have been going away. Bureaucracy and pension costs have consumed state funding for universities.

Students are forced make up the difference, forking over thousands more in tuition dollars and racking up more debt. Once they’re soaked in debt, they’re tossed into an Illinois economy that isn’t creating enough jobs.

It’s no wonder they’re leaving.

Unfortunately, Illinois’ education system puts the bureaucracy and its retirement benefits ahead of students and their financial needs. This needs to be flipped on its head.

Universities can do more with less if they’re willing to prioritize students and cut bureaucracy. If you want to see an innovative, student-focused public university, look no farther than Purdue University in neighboring Indiana.

Purdue is run by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, an innovator whose public work has unleashed Hoosier success. From the Illinois side of the border, it seems like Daniels’ singular focus has been to lure hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans to decamp for Indiana’s lower costs and better job creation. That’s been his effect as governor of Indiana and president of Purdue.

Daniels has argued that the university should be run for the good of the students and not the bureaucrats. Tuition and fees have been frozen for years. Costs have been cut. Patents and business formations have soared. Purdue aims to be a center of Midwest innovation and business formation, and Daniels has them well on their way.

Indiana is finding ways to do more with less, innovate for the future, and create opportunities. In short, they’re eating Illinois’ lunch.

And how’s this for another round of innovation – Purdue just purchased Kaplan’s online university. They aim to create a robust online program backed by their Big 10 might.

As Illinois pols scream about needing more money to pay off the debts of the past, Indiana is creating the university of the future.

So the next time you hear a politician griping for more of your tax dollars, ask him what’s been done to reform the bureaucracy and pensions that drive up university costs.

Then ask him whether he would send his kids to a school sunk in bureaucracy and debt or one flowering with innovation.

If his kids are like many Illinoisans, they’re ready to vote with their tuition dollars and find an affordable education in a state that works.

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