Boilermakers offer template for change in Illinois universities, analyst says
Indiana's Purdue University offers a great economics class -- not so much for students, but for every comparable Illinois school, a policy analyst said on a Chicago-based talk show recently.
Illinois' universities are dealing with below-par credit ratings that started from issues that came well before the state's budget impasse, and it's leading to students moving elsewhere to go to college, Michael Lucci, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, said on "Illinois Rising."
"Young kids are figuring this out," he said. "They're leaving the state of Illinois at a faster clip than any other state in the country."
What high school graduates in Illinois have come to understand is that Illinois universities are not run for them, Lucci said.
"If you look at how the state funds universities, we actually provide decent funding for the universities," Lucci said. "The problem is it all goes to pensions; it all goes to retirees and their pensions. So generally speaking, Illinois runs the universities for the bureaucrats and not for the students."
Earlier in June, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the credit ratings of seven Illinois universities, five of which now have speculative-grade credit ratings: Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Governors State, Northeastern Illinois and Eastern Illinois.
University administrators have blamed the budget impasse and the administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for their enrollment drops, but Lucci said the problems actually extend back about a decade.
"The complete story is that Illinois students have been voting with their tuition dollars to go to other states since at least the year 2000," Lucci said
Illinois lost almost 200,000 college-bound students to other states from 2000 to 2014, Lucci said.
"And that's 200,000 more than we gained from other states in the country," he said. "So these universities that have been crying poor and claiming the students are leaving because of the budget impasse, perhaps there is some of that."
Lucci argued the problem doesn't have to occur, as evidenced by nearby Purdue.
"If you want a comparison, you just have to look right next door at Purdue University in Indiana," he said.
In 2013, former two-term Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels became Purdue's 12th president and things began to change, Lucci maintained.
"He made this revolutionary claim: 'Let's run the university for the students, not for the bureaucrats'" Lucci said. "I know this is something that would shock university administrators in Illinois who think the university system is theirs so they can have a nice life, make a lot of money there, and then have a really cushy retirement in the state of Illinois pension system. Daniels just took a different view."
Daniels implemented reforms, including a tuition freeze and cuts.
"He was truly trimming the fat," Lucci said. "He was eliminating the positions that were not geared toward a great experience and a great outcome for students. Now if you go down there, everybody wants to be there; everybody loves it. Everybody loves how they're rising in the national rankings; everyone loves how Illinois students are fleeing to Purdue for their engineering degrees."
It will take that kind of leadership to make similar changes in Illinois, Lucci argued.
"Everyone loves how there's more patents coming out of there, more business formations coming out of there; everyone thinks it's a great success now," he said. "But you have to have someone with courage, up front, who will say, 'We're changing how we're doing these things; we're going to make some tough decisions, and the reason we're going to make tough decisions is because we'll be in a better place three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now.'"
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