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Higher Ed On The Hot Seat

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A panel of state senators heard budget requests from agencies representing colleges and universities, and lawmakers took the opportunity to ask why neighboring states are able to lure so many Illinois students away.

The answer is pretty simple: Other Big 10 schools offer financial considerations that the Illinois flagship campus can't match.

For Dan McConchie, a Republican senator from the western suburbs of Chicago, this issue hits close to home. His daughter is a high school senior whose high GPA and high test scores have won her scholarship offers from other Big 10 schools, but not from the University of Illinois.

Al Bowman, the recently-appointed director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, tried to explain.

"For a youngster who had a 30 ACT, good grades — any university in the country would be aggressive in going after that student,” he said. “So I'm not surprised…”

"Except here,” McConchie interrupted. “I mean, she applied to U of I, and they gave her nothing."

Bowman, former president of Illinois State University, said McConchie’s daughter would’ve undoubtedly gotten a better deal at ISU, but acknowledged that many students crave “that Big 10 experience.” He said it can be tough for homegrown students to gain admission to certain programs on the flagship campus. The reason, he said, is that UIUC’s applicant pool includes thousands of international students willing to pay much higher rates.

"I mean, if you have 5,000 students from mainland China paying out-of-state tuition,” Bowman said, “what's the incentive for them to discount to an in-state youngster in order to land that resident?"

Bowman said Illinois residents make up about 90 percent of the student body at every public college in the state except UIUC, where they account for about 70 percent of the student body. He promised to come up with a plan that would encourage prioritization of Illinois students.

Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said international students help subsidize tuition costs for Illinois students.

"I, for one, don't have a problem with, in effect, making a profit on some students coming in from out of state or out of country,” Oberweis said, “because they help bring down our costs of educating our own students in Illinois."

But McConchie said he wants Illinois families to have a shot getting their students into the Big 10 school that’s in Illinois.

"There is no reason why my daughter gets a better deal from a Big 10 school outside the state than a Big 10 school inside the state when I'm paying taxes to support that Big 10 school," he said.

Illinois has ranked second or third in the nation for the out-migration of traditional college students for many years.