JB’s Plan for Higher Education: Growing a Globally Competitive Workforce

From early childhood through the end of a productive career, our state will prosper only by making a world-class education available to all of our citizens. During the past three and a half years, college has become even less affordable, students have increasingly left our state, and too little is being done to train our workforce for jobs of the future. Prospective students, faculty and administrators question whether Illinois is truly committed to excellence in higher education. Yet, our state is rich in academic talent, nationally and globally recognized colleges and universities, and businesses seeking talented graduates. There is enormous potential for Illinois’ higher education to thrive, but it will take renewed leadership, a commitment to nurture and support education from cradle to career, and a plan. Juliana and I are committed to this all-important mission.

Bruce Rauner came into office with the idea that unless everything was done his way, he would willingly tear apart our state regardless of the impact on the working people of Illinois. Our education system has suffered mightily from Rauner’s attacks on working people and his unwillingness to reach agreement on a budget.  Support for community colleges and public universities was slashed by nearly $2 billion. Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income college students were derailed, enrollment at state universities and community colleges plummeted by more than 72,000 students, the credit ratings of five public universities plunged to junk status, and 2,300 professors and instructors lost their jobs. It will take years to overcome the fiscal and reputational damage caused by Rauner’s unforgivable attacks on our students and schools.

We can and will chart a new course for higher education in Illinois, one that will move us forward and expand opportunity to all of our state’s families. It’s time to build a student-centered system that is more affordable, attractive to students nationally and globally, and aligned with the jobs of tomorrow. Investments in higher education will fortify Illinois’ long-term economic vitality by strengthening our workforce, attracting and incubating new businesses, expanding our tax base, and curbing the population loss that’s plagued our state during the Rauner years and before. It’s time to bring the leaders of both parties together and provide the strategic direction needed to build the system of higher education our state deserves.

My plan focuses on three key areas:

  1. Increasing College Affordability
  2. Keeping Illinois Students in State
  3. Expanding Economic Opportunity and Promoting Innovation

Increase College Affordability

Higher education has become unaffordable for too many Illinois students and families. During Rauner’s term in office, tuition increased by more than 20 percent at three public universities and at seven campuses overall. Today, the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public university in Illinois is 5th highest in the nation. As a result, Illinois college students graduate with an average of around $29,000 in student loans. This debt affects their ability to purchase a home, start a family, and save for retirement, compromising their future and hurting the economy of our state.

By derailing financial aid and destabilizing support for colleges and universities, Bruce Rauner has failed every Illinois family struggling to pay for college. Colleges and universities have reverted to a historically defensive posture rather than focusing on modernizing higher education. This is inefficient, costly, and a detriment to our students as we fail to maximize our investments and improve student outcomes. By holding state funding for higher education hostage during his multi-year budget crisis, Rauner caused an interruption in financial aid, cutting off aid to more than 100,000 MAP recipients. As a result, enrollment at Illinois community colleges and public universities declined by more than 72,000 students, and a tidal wave of doubt surrounding the future of higher education in Illinois swept over the state.

As governor, I’ll lead the effort to make college more affordable for every student. Working hand-in-hand with the higher education community, elected officials, and other stakeholders, we will address the rising costs of college, increase financial aid opportunities for students and their families across the state, and provide relief to those already saddled with debt. Together, we’ll increase college affordability, attract more qualified students, and reduce costs for Illinois families.

My Plan:

  • Increase funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) by 50 percent and raise the maximum MAP award each student can receive.
  • Join a dozen other states in establishing a new state-administered student loan refinancing program to help students and families reduce their student loan payments by hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.
  • Restore funding for community colleges and public universities to pre-Rauner levels so schools can rebuild their high-quality programs and faculty.
  • Create a task force to examine how Illinois can set a course toward providing free college education.

Keep Illinois College Students in State

Illinois has some of the finest post-secondary institutions in the nation. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been the number one recipient of National Science Foundation grants for 7 years in a row.  Illinois State University is ranked as a top 100 public university and is located in a top 10 college town.  Western Illinois University was ranked a ‘Best Midwestern University’ for the last 12 years.  Illinois community colleges and public universities also have better graduation rates than the national average. In fact, 86 percent of full-time students at Illinois public universities earn a degree within 6 years.

But Bruce Rauner’s failure to sign a budget during his first three years in office and his penchant for bad-mouthing the state has caused significant fiscal and reputational damage to our colleges and universities. A staggering 46 percent of high school graduates from the class of 2016 chose to leave Illinois and attend four-year schools out of state. That figure was just 22 percent in 2002.  Students are flocking to schools in our neighboring states and are being aggressively recruited by schools in Alabama, Tennessee, and New York.  Illinois families cannot afford another four years of Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership.

As governor, I will make it my mission to keep students here in Illinois. My administration will encourage first-time college students to stay here by enhancing and stabilizing the state’s investment in higher education, making it easier to apply to state schools, and making college more affordable. And unlike Bruce Rauner, I will be the best chief marketing officer this state has ever seen, emphasizing the strengths of our community colleges and universities at every opportunity.

My Plan:

  • Modernize the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success setting new strategic goals to improve student outcomes and attain the highest college graduation rate in the nation.
  • Based upon successful results from its pilot program, expand eligibility for the new AIM-HIGH merit-based financial aid program so that 90 percent of Illinois households can benefit.
  • Create a common application process that allows students to fill out a single application for submission to every public university in Illinois.
  • Ensure that community college credits transfer to public universities here in Illinois.
  • Increase promotion of Illinois’ public universities and community colleges to Illinois high school students and end Bruce Rauner’s tenure of badmouthing our state.

Expanding Economic Opportunity and Promoting Innovation

Illinois’ community colleges and public universities are economic engines for our state, expanding economic opportunity, boosting Illinois’ economy by more than $22 billon a year, and supporting nearly 124,000 jobs across the state. They are also centers of innovation. Between 2014 and 2016, research parks at the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, and other campuses across the state helped create 800 startups. As the founder of 1871, one of the top business incubators in the world, I know how valuable these spaces are to entrepreneurs and our state economy.

Bruce Rauner has weakened our post-secondary economic assets throughout the state. Higher education in Illinois is not being properly utilized to expand economic opportunity. While our public colleges and universities outperform national averages in many categories, we have a long way to go to achieve equity in the enrollment, persistence, and completion rates of low-income students and students of color. Data shows that students of color have a lower 6-year college completion rate than the state average. For Illinois’ economy to continue to thrive, we must work to achieve economic inclusion through our institutions of higher education.

Colleges and universities are hubs of economic growth, workforce training, and innovation, and I will prioritize them as investments toward a stronger Illinois. We can help all students have the opportunity to succeed by ensuring they have support services when they arrive at school. And we can raise wages and strengthen our economy by training people for jobs in major industries and emerging sectors.  Employers looking to grow their businesses in Illinois want replenishing pools of highly skilled workers, so Illinois must support and expand the availability of vocational education, apprenticeship programs, and workforce development. Illinois needs every worker, regardless of whether they pursue a degree or a certification, to be trained for the jobs of today and tomorrow. By encouraging and strengthening partnerships between employers and community colleges, we can prepare our workforce for high-demand, good-paying jobs in every corner of our state.

My plan:

  • Expand career and technical education and apprenticeship programs by incentivizing partnerships between businesses and community colleges to develop and expand job training programs in high-demand STEM fields.
  • Create a new college completion program that bolsters student support services and expands bridge programs in order to improve the enrollment and graduation rates of low-income and minority students.
  • Launch new statewide competitions among students at Illinois public and private universities that reward and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • Provide small state-funded matching grants to university-based start-ups to strengthen their ability to compete for federal funding.
  • Facilitate collaboration between public and private universities to advance research and innovation.
  • Improve efforts across state agencies to support non-traditional students in pursuit of a degree or work certification.
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