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Seeking Solutions to Higher Education's Woes in Illinois

Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU.

The Higher Education Working Group started meeting last fall to identify ways to reform higher education in Illinois.  And the group continues to meet even after lawmakers adjourned their 2018 legislative session.

The bipartisan group includes members of the Illinois House and Senate.  Some have a public university in their district, including State Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb).

“It’s a great group,” said Hammond.  “It is the most rewarding group that I have been a part of in the General Assembly.”

She said the members came together with one goal in mind: to do better for higher education in Illinois. She said they never lost sight of that goal, even when they disagreed about certain issues.

The group said it developed “…a series of impactful legislation aimed at strengthening Illinois' colleges and universities and making them more attractive and affordable for students across the state for many years to come.” The group said the bills include:

Credit Rich Egger
State Representative Norine Hammond

SB 2354

Starting in 2019-2020, each public college and university student with 30 academic credit hours completed must disclose their degree programs of interest to their college or university for a possible advisement session. IBHE and ICCB shall develop policies to encourage reverse transfer credits for students at colleges and universities. Tuition waiver amounts shall not be limited by the Board of Higher Education at public universities.

HB 5020

Expands MAP grant awards to public institutions from yearly to four years.

SJR 76

Instructs IBHE, ICCB and public institutions to work together on identifying cases where courses are not transferable with full credit between institutions, ensure the General Education Core curricula has aligned course codes, and prevent students transferring between Illinois public institutions from having to retake core curriculum courses or take additional general education courses to satisfy degree requirements.

SB 2927

Creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program to encourage access and affordability for Illinois colleges and universities through a new merit-based scholarship. Illinois citizens with qualifying income, GPAs, and test scores would be eligible, and funds would be provided through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to colleges and universities who participate. Participation in the program will be tracked by ISAC and reported back to the Illinois General Assembly.

SB 2969

Greatly expands debt limits at the state's public universities to allow them to address deferred maintenance and make capital improvements that have been delayed for several years. Universities must disclose how the borrowing for capital improvements will affect their overall fiscal condition to the General Assembly.

HB 4781

Authorizes the Illinois State Board of Education to conduct a brief survey of all Illinois students taking state assessments on their contact information, career interests, intended fields of study and self-reported cumulative GPA. All Illinois public higher education institutions will receive the information unless students opt out.

Hammond said the group is still working to create a common college application that could be shared among the state’s universities. She said the group must ensure its plan doesn’t violate federal privacy laws.

She said the group is also working to ease some procurement rules for universities.

Hammond said the group didn’t focus on higher education funding, but instead tried to come up with ways to reverse the trend of students leaving Illinois to attend college in other states.

“We believe that if we can get our Illinois students in our Illinois public universities and community colleges, then that’s half the battle to the funding,” Hammond said. “That was really where the focus was. What do we do to get our Illinois students interested in staying in Illinois?”

She said the group brought in experts from across the country to talk about what’s working in other states.  She said the experts agreed grant and scholarship programs seem to be particularly effective.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.