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Illinois Moves All Public Universities to Common App in Hopes of Curbing Out-Migration

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Jesse Ruiz, Illinois Deputy Governor for Education

Beginning this fall, all 12 of Illinois' public universities will begin using the Common App, a single online application used by hundreds of colleges and universities across the country.

Only three of the state's public universities currently use the Common App — in addition to 32 private institutions. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed budget for fiscal 2022 includes $1 million to help universities cover the cost of using the Common App, which is operated as a nonprofit member organization. 

The Pritzker administration is pushing the change because they believe it will decrease logistical challenges for students and families, lead to a boost in applications at Illinois universities this fall, and curb the out-migration of students to out-of-state schools.

Illinois Newsroom recently spoke with Illinois Deputy Governor for Education, Jesse Ruiz, about the switch to the Common App and what it means for higher education in Illinois.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

Lee Gaines: Why is this happening now? And why haven’t more public universities switched to the Common App sooner?

Jesse Ruiz: Well, it’s happening now because Gov. Pritzker has championed this in his last few budgets providing support for our public universities to do this. There is some expense, but we think it’s well worth it, given the advantages it gives to all our students in Illinois. And we will become one of only two states in the nation to have all its public universities on the Common App (a spokesperson for the Pritzker administration says Maine is the other state with all its public universities on the Common App), which takes out so many expense barriers and logistical barriers, makes it simpler for students to afford themselves all the great options that exist in Illinois. And so we’re happy that this is happening — finally getting everybody on the Common App.

LG: Has cost been a barrier for institutions switching to the Common App previously?

JR: For some, and just having their own systems that they’ve been accustomed to. And change is always difficult. But I’m glad that all our public universities are embracing this change and realizing it’s good for everybody. And this is truly an effort where it benefits all our public universities, to have students being able to avail themselves of application opportunities all in one simple step.

LG: In terms of funding, how much is the state going to dedicate to help institutions pay for the costs associated with using the Common App?

JR: I believe the governor put forward a $1 million dollar appropriation in his budget recommendation. And I hope the General Assembly sees fit to include that in the ultimate budget that they approve. And it’s, again, an investment with many other investments that Gov. Pritzker has made in education across the spectrum. And this is one that we think is going to have a great return on investment for our Illinois students and all Illinois citizens as we afford more of our citizens access to higher education.

LG: What is the benefit to students and their families, who may be covering the cost of their college applications?

JR: It’s removed some expense in the application process itself. As somebody who’s got a college junior, I remember a few years back all the various different applications, and although my son did the bulk of the work, it’s a big commitment of family time as well. And so it makes it easier for families to explore all the options and make applications and submit applications in one place.

LG: And do you think it’s going to reduce barriers in the application process?

JR: I do. I think it does reduce logistical barriers, and more importantly, brings more opportunity to students through the Common App to access many more universities with one application process, perhaps some that they may not have otherwise explored, had it not been made more readily and easily available to them. We are truly reducing barriers to entry for a number of our students across the state.

LG: What’s the benefit to our public colleges and universities here? I know there has been concern, historically, of an out-migration of students from Illinois going to colleges and universities in other states. Is there a hope or a sense that switching to the Common App will encourage Illinois students to stay in Illinois as they pursue post secondary education?

JR: You’re exactly right. We believe it will, that it makes it easier for them to choose an Illinois option. And there are hundreds of great Illinois options, both on the public and private sector side. And so we want to make sure that they’re aware of them, they can easily avail themselves of those great opportunities, and perhaps consider schools they may not have otherwise considered in Illinois —  particularly our 12 public universities that have amazing programs and curriculum to study for the careers of the 21st century. And so that’s what we want all Illinoisans to have the opportunity to access. And we think it will help students explore those opportunities that are world class learning opportunities, right here in their own home state that are affordable and accessible.

LG: This might seem like a silly question, but why is it important to the governor and his administration that we invest in things like providing the Common App to all of our public universities? Why does that matter? Why is it even important that we keep our students at institutions in this state?

JR: Well, to support our state institutions, and also to support our students in obtaining the skills that we believe will be necessary for 21st century careers and hopefully careers that will keep them here in Illinois, and invest in our Illinois economy. And so it’s a win-win on all sides, that they’re keeping our Illinois institutions robust with robust enrollments, and also hopefully growing the number of Illinoisans who achieve a higher education degree or certificate or training and making sure that more and more Illinoisans have access to it. Because we’re in a knowledge economy. And we know that. And so we want to make sure all Illinoisans have opportunities to obtain a higher education. And this does make it easier.

Lee Gaines is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Follow Lee on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

Lee V. Gaines is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, Crain’s, the Pacific Standard and the Marshall Project. She also recently completed a fellowship with Chicago non-profit journalism lab, City Bureau.