Over the last 15 years Illinois has seen a 57 percent increase in number of students choosing to go out-of-state for college—enough students to fill an entire public university campus.
But could there be a silver lining to the outmigration problem?
Al Bowman, the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said he sees outmigration as a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s a threat, but it’s also finally gotten the attention of state lawmakers, Bowman said. This year that led to the creation of a new merit-based scholarship program and more stability for need-based aid—aimed in part at keeping in-state students here.
“It’s gotten their attention in a way that higher education wasn’t able to do. It’s sort of obvious, tangible evidence that there are significant challenges in higher ed, and if we don’t address them as a state, we will suffer serious consequences,” said Bowman, the former president at Illinois State.
Bowman joined GLT’s Sound Ideas to discuss this fall’s enrollment numbers—a mix of “good news and some not-so-good news,” as Bowman put it. Schools like Eastern Illinois saw their falling enrollments finally rebound. But others, like Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois, did not. Overall enrollment across public universities in Illinois fell 1 percent this fall, down from 2 percent a year ago, Bowman said.
Public universities are still trying to shake off Springfield’s two-year budget impasse, which finally ended in summer 2017. Higher education leaders welcomed this year’s on-time budget. ISU, for example, will get $66.3 million from the state this year, an increase of 2 percent ($1.3 million).
Now, lawmakers and higher ed leaders are turning their attention to a funding formula rewrite, similar in scope to last year’s overhaul for K-12 schools. That one took years to finally pass.
Bowman said IBHE staff and the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group hope to have the “first iteration” of a new funding formula ready by April 1.
Today, state funding is distributed to public universities based on a historical pattern, Bowman said. Less than 1 percent is based on performance metrics like enrollment and graduation rate, he said.
“One of the struggles the group is wrestling with is what percentage of state dollars should be allocated to performance, and to what degree do you go down that path when your overall base is roughly 49 percent of what it was in 2002?” Bowman said. “While I’m glad we’re working on a funding formula, the reality is no matter how good the formula is, it won’t change the fact that universities have far fewer state dollars to spend today than they did 16 years ago. And fundamentally that has to change, or we’re not going to see much in the way of results.”
Bowman said he thinks lawmakers will lean into performance-based funding enough where it begins to impact institutional behavior. And that’s good, he said.
“My sense in talking to the governor and the four legislative leaders is that they all realize more dollars need to go into higher ed. There’s certainly debate about where those dollars should go. Should it go in the form of aid directly to students? Should it go to institutions directly for operations? That remains to be seen,” he said.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.