Many Illinois Students Still Go Out Of State For College | WBEZ
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Illinois College Student Out Migration Continues

Nearly half of Illinois public high school graduates who enrolled in four-year colleges left the state for school in 2017, almost a 2 percent increase over the prior year, according to new data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The new numbers show the state’s budget impasse accelerated the rate of students leaving Illinois for college, IBHE administrators say. In the two years prior to the budget impasse, the rate increased by 1.2 percent. Since then, outmigration went up by 3.7 percent.

“This is not good news,” Nyle Robinson, interim executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said in a press release. “The out migration trend continues to increase, and that means we’re not only losing students to out-of-state colleges and universities, we’re likely losing them to other states for good.”

Out migration rates were much lower in 2002, when only 29 percent of Illinois high school graduates enrolled in four-year colleges and universities outside the state. Since then, the rate of students leaving the state for college has increased by nearly two-thirds. In 2017, 48.4 percent of students left for four-year schools out of state.

The budget impasse also had a negative effect on enrollment at Illinois’ public universities, especially at smaller schools. Chicago State University was especially hard hit during the budget impasse. CSU saw a 37 percent enrollment decline since 2015, to 2,267 students in fall 2018. Governors State University in Chicago’s south suburbs saw enrollment drop by 15 percent.

Recently, Western Illinois University in Macomb announced it was laying off 132 employees due to a tight budget. Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, asked Gov. JB Pritzker for emergency funding to prevent future layoffs. Enrollment has dropped 24 percent since 2015, to 7,260 students last fall.

State lawmakers are trying to address this issue. Last year, they passed a new scholarship program called Aim High, allocating $25 million that public universities match to offer merit-based aid to encourage Illinois high school students to attend in-state public universities. The new program starts offering scholarships to freshmen who enrolled this fall. Gov. Pritzker is proposing to fund the program for a second year and add an additional $10 million. Lawmakers also passed a bill giving priority access to students with MAP grants to sign up early to renew the need-based grant.

Eric Lichtenberger, deputy director of IBHE’s information management and research division, said even though the number of high school graduates declined between 2016 and 2017, the same number are going to college overall — in and out of state.

“From the K-12 perspective, or the perspective of an individual high school, it seems to be a good outcome to send your students to college,” Lichtenberger said. But, he added, they don’t seem to be “considering the impact on the state of Illinois’ higher ed system.”

Community colleges were the only area that saw enrollment increase. It jumped 3 percent between 2017 and 2016.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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