Governor Signs Legislation to Help Keep Illinois Students in Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Tuesday creating a merit-based scholarship program for Illinois students and a task force to help share college and career interest data between high schools and higher education institutions. Both initiatives are products of the Higher Education Working Group focused on making the state’s colleges and universities more affordable and accessible for Illinois students.

“Our future as a state is dependent upon people wanting to live, work and attend school here in Illinois,” Rauner said. “We want to create a place where our young people want to learn and put what they have learned into practice through careers that enrich our economy and make Illinois a better place to live.”

From 1991 to 2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges declined by 50,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. From 2011 to 2016, undergraduate enrollment at Illinois public universities fell 5,127 students, a decline of more than 8 percent.

Senate Bill 2927 creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program, a merit-based scholarship for Illinois students who attend college in-state.

“We’ve enacted $25 million in state funds from the FY19 budget for the program that will then be matched by universities for a total scholarship pool of at least $50 million in merit-based aid,” Rauner said.

The funds will be disbursed by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to Illinois’ public universities in proportion to their enrollment of undergraduate, in-state students.

“We have world-class institutions here in Illinois,” Rauner said. “AIM High will make them more affordable for Illinois families and allow us to better compete with out-of-state institutions offering robust financial aid packages.”

Many students in Illinois have family incomes that fall above the threshold necessary to be eligible for MAP and Pell grants but still cannot afford the full sticker price for in-state institutions.

“An initiative of our Higher Education Working Group, this pilot program is another way to encourage those furthering their education to stay here in Illinois attending our public universities,” said Rep. Norine Hammond. “In this program, participating universities will match the number of funds received by the state with their institutional financial aid.”

Institutions will have discretion over the metrics used to award merit-based scholarships to students to meet the individual needs of their campus populations.

“The AIM High grant program is one of several new initiatives designed to slow the out-migration of Illinois students,” said Illinois Board of Higher Education Executive Director Al Bowman. “It makes sense, given competition from out-of-state schools, to offer additional merit-based scholarships so that more families see our universities as affordable. This will also help us attract some of the state’s high school graduates who are contemplating not going to college at all because of cost.”

No mechanism is currently in place to easily share information about students’ college or career interests between high schools and higher education systems in Illinois.

House Bill 4781 creates a task force to study how students’ college or career interest data can be collected and shared between high schools and higher education institutions.

“Our state has long been the second largest exporter of high school students in the country, and when Illinois high school students leave us for college, they seldom return,” said Rep. Dan Brady, the legislation’s chief House sponsor. “This is an important improvement that will bring together educational institutions and interest groups to determine how Illinois can better share information on students’ needs and goals so we can keep our brightest here.”

This data will also allow colleges and universities to enhance their programs and services to support the specific needs of their incoming student cohort through more targeted degree advising and counseling for students.

“When students attend schools that support their interests, they are more likely to persist and earn credentials or degrees,” Rauner said. “We don’t want them to have to go out-of-state because they couldn’t find an Illinois program that fits their goals and interests. Sharing this data will better prepare our Illinois institutions for our new enrollees.”

The task force is required to submit the findings of the study to the General Assembly on or before Jan. 30, 2019, and will be dissolved following the submittal.

Both bills are products of the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group, whose work includes legislation signed by Rauner earlier this month that gives priority to returning MAP grant students and streamlines licensing for teachers.

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