Two lawmakers from central Illinois on Monday proposed an overhaul of the state’s higher education system, making it easier for students to apply to public universities while also putting those schools through new “economic efficiency reviews.”
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, announced their plan to identify successful academic programs in the state and to potentially cut what they say are wasted tax and tuition dollars elsewhere. Rose took particular aim at a possible STEM building project (listed on a capital spending wish list) at the University of Illinois at Springfield as an example of “the need for better planning in higher education.”
Rose said certain programs deserve more state resources than others.
“Putting an $82.6 million marker on a brand-new STEM building in Springfield when you’ve got Northern, Western, EIU all with programs that have very good reputations, that money would be better spent somewhere else,” Rose said.
Rose and Brady announced their legislation Monday at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, where they also appeared at a legislative update event for employees.
Rose and Brady’s plan also comes in response to the increasing number of Illinois students attending college out of state. Enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges decreased by 50,000 students from 1991 to 2014, the lawmakers said. Enrollments this fall were also down at most Illinois public universities.
Rose and Brady’s so-called Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence plan would direct state resources to the strengths of each institution. The plan would create a uniform admission application for all public universities in Illinois. Any high school student with a grade of “B” or better average will be automatically admitted to an “academically appropriate” public university if they maintain that academic performance through graduation.
“In this legislation there’s a component that really gives a little more teeth to the (Illinois) Board of Higher Education that has been there before. That’s going to be a component when it comes to new programs schools offer,” said Brady.
The plan would “also help identify the most successful academic programs in the state” and allocate resources accordingly. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), for example, would “rank the quality of academic departments to corresponding” departments at other public universities in Illinois, according to their plan. IBHE would also report recommendations to the General Assembly including specific recommendations on the creation of a statewide merit-based financial aid program and how to pay for such a program.
“It is clear that nationally, and in Illinois, higher education is in a state of flux. Change will be necessary, but thoughtful, coordinated change can help us strengthen a great system," Rose said. "This is the beginning of a conversation—a dialogue. These are only ideas, and I look forward to taking positive suggestions, creative ideas, and constructive criticism to move Illinois forward and reshape and strengthen our world-class institutions for the taxpayers, the students and families across Illinois.”
In a statement Monday, Illinois State University said it’s always “willing to be at the table” in discussions about the shape and future of higher education.
“President (Larry) Dietz and other university leaders will certainly carefully review this proposal, as it suggests a number of changes,” said ISU spokesperson Eric Jome.
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