In New Study, Penn Researchers Unveil Decline of Higher Education Opportunity and Affordability in Illinois

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820November 15, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education have found a decade-long decline of higher education opportunity and affordability in Illinois.  They also found that state leaders have abandoned effective policies that once resulted in outstanding performance in higher education.

They also uncovered a lack of statewide policy leadership in Illinois and no accountability for higher-education performance.  They attribute this to several sources, including a weak and ineffective Board of Higher Education, to political corruption and to inattention to higher education among state elected officials.

Researchers Laura Perna and Joni Finney point to the state’s decline during the last decade, in terms of college preparation, enrollment and affordability.  Their report,  “A Story of Decline: Performance and State Policies of Higher Education in Illinois” is the first installment of a five-state, two-year study.

Illinois has shifted away from funding need-based student financial aid, reduced support for students in the independent sector, failed to develop a statewide approach to tuition increases and failed to align state appropriations with state priorities for higher education, Perna and Finney concluded.

The report notes tuition costs have increased dramatically, while family incomes have fallen and state support for need-based grants has dropped.  From 1999 to 2009, median family incomes in Illinois fell by 6.5 percent while tuition increased by 100 percent at public four-year universities and by 38 percent at public two-year colleges.  During the past decade, state support for need-based grants for full-time undergraduate students declined by 28 percent.

“One of the most dramatic changes in Illinois in recent years is the decline in its long-standing success in providing state-funded need-based financial aid to students,” Perna said.  “Because of shortfalls in state funding, state need-based grants are now awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, leaving substantial numbers of eligible students with no state financial aid.”

Researchers also found a decline in the number of high school graduates immediately enrolling in college.

According to the study, 55 percent of Illinois’ workforce will need to hold at least an associate’s degree by 2020, but to reach that goal the state must increase its production of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees by 5.4 annually annually.

The study also concludes that during the next 20 years, the state’s Hispanic population is projected to increase dramatically, but Hispanics in Illinois tend to underperform in higher education and present a challenge to the state’s higher-education system.

“The state is walking away from its historic commitment to educational opportunity at the very time that the Illinois economy demands a more educated population,” Finney said.

“Performance and State Policies” attributes the drop in Illinois’ higher education performance to the state’s 1995 reorganization, which abolished the “system of systems,” creating a more localized university governance.  But the reorganization created two major problems in the process: failure to establish shared state goals and priorities for higher education and failure to strategically allocate available fiscal resources.

Other states in the five-state study are Georgia, Maryland, Texas and Washington.  The findings for these states will be released later this year.

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