The map below shows where Illinois high school graduates enroll at public (blue) and private (red) four-year universities.
The first story is that a lot of Illinois high school graduates leave Illinois for college. The most, in fact, of any other state after New Jersey.
This matters because when a student leaves Illinois for college, they are less likely to return and work in Illinois. The net economic impact of a lost student to another state is about $225,000 per student lost over the course of a lifetime (1) in income tax revenues alone. This does not include the negative impact on the general economy in terms of lost consumption or spending.
Companies lose in terms of their ability to attract an educated and skilled workforce. Taxpayers lose the investment they made in students in 13 years of K-12 education. Other states win because they are able to develop a highly educated workforce with little investment of their own.
The second compelling story is that a lot of students leave Illinois for public universities. In the last 20 years, four-year public university enrollment among Illinois high school graduates has remained relatively flat, but nearly doubled at out-of-state four-year public universities. This should send a clear message about what Illinois residents think about the state of public higher education in Illinois.
Strategies to keep Illinois residents at in-state universities include:
- Mission differentiation in the four-year public sector, creating institutions with their own unique niche (small, liberal-arts focused; technical or engineering focused; large university focused on research; etc.). Institutional diversity provides more options to Illinois residents. A one-size fits all approach precludes access to distinctiveness and value.
- More certainty in the higher education budget for direct institutional subsidies and student financial aid.
- Financial aid incentives for in-state residents. However, since it is assumed that Illinois residents are paying more for public institutions in other states, economic incentives may not be effective in retaining people who are not sensitive to price, and focus more on perceived educational quality.
- A final strategy would be to recruit more out-of-state students or out-of-state college graduates to Illinois. If Illinois residents are unwilling to invest in strategies that would keep talented high school graduates at in-state colleges, this option could be less expensive. It would probably require, however, more public-private coordination and cooperation, expertise in economic development and education, and leadership.