Hoping to benefit from Illinois’ economic hardships, public universities in states bordering Illinois have aggressively sought to recruit Illinois students in recent years.
The result: An increasing flow of young Illinoisans crossing state lines in pursuit of affordable higher education. If the trend continues, this fall won’t be any different.
What tends to draw prospective Illinoisan collegians to other states are out-of-state tuition rates at some public schools below what Illinois students would pay in-state at many of their home state’s institutions.
National data shows that in 2004, approximately 15 percent of Illinois high school graduates attended college outside of their home state. By 2014 that had risen to 22 percent — 10,000 more students than a decade earlier — making Illinois’ migration percentage the highest among Midwestern states, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Last fall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison attracted 2,636 undergraduate students from Illinois.
The University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus, which is only 25 miles from the Illinois border, is charging out-of-state students $16,222 for tuition for the 2016-17 school year.
By comparison, in-state students attending the University of Illinois will pay between $15,630 and $20,634 in tuition for the upcoming school year, depending on when they enrolled. In-state students at Illinois State in Bloomington-Normal will pay $14,062 for tuition for the 2016-17 school year.
The national average for tuition fees at public four-year colleges is $9,410 for in-state students and $23,893 for non-residents, the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges 2015-16 reported.
“We have certainly seen an increase in the number of Illinois students attending UW-Whitewater,” Jeremy Smith, non-resident admissions coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, said. “Currently, we have over 1,500 Illinois students attending UW-Whitewater, and this year, we plan to enroll about 360 new freshmen from Illinois for the Fall 2016 semester.”
Smith said he believes there are a number of driving factors as to why more Illinois students are attending UW-Whitewater.
“Our non-resident tuition costs are very competitive and oftentimes favorable in comparison to in-state tuition rates in Illinois,” Smith said.
UW-Whitewater has hired an additional staff member devoted to non-resident recruitment from Illinois.
“The budget crisis in Illinois has lasted more than a year, and funding cuts have caused some Illinois colleges to make significant changes,” Smith said. “The growing concern regarding the state budget may be causing more students to explore their options outside of the state.”
State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said the out-migration of Illinois students is a bigger problem than many realize.
“This is what’s (threatening) the state’s future," Batinick said. "This is one of the biggest ticking time bombs that we have. (It’s) bigger than the pension crisis."
The loss of young Illinoisans to other states is one of the issues Batinick has taken on since joining the General Assembly in 2015.
“They are poaching our smart kids because if you have a certain ACT score or GPA, they’ll give you in-state tuition at a lot of schools,” Batinick said.
Several years ago, UW-Whitewater established a Non-Resident New Freshmen Scholarship program for non-resident students who have a minimum of a 3.25 un-weighted GPA on a four-point scale, and a composite score of 23 on the ACT. The scholarships range from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the students’ academic merit.
The core issue here at home is why tuition rates at Illinois public universities are so high. Batinick once thought the reason was limited state funding, but his view has changed.
“In 2014, we were actually spending nearly double the national average per student on higher education in Illinois,” Batinick said. “So it’s not a funding issue from the state.”
The reason why it is expensive to do business in Illinois is the same reason it is expensive to run government in Illinois, Batinick said.
“For example, the University of Illinois’ liability insurance has gone up 1,000 percent since 1996,” Batinick said. “When workman's compensation rates are high, guess what, universities pay workman's compensation.”
Wisconsin isn’t the only state attracting Illinois students. The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, also has seen an increasing number of students from Illinois in recent years.
“We’ve had very strong interest from students living in Illinois for years,” Anne Bassett, media relations director from the Office of Strategic Communication at the University of Iowa, said. “The University of Iowa is a great choice for many reasons, including being a Big Ten institution where students can receive a high-quality education at a great value that’s only a few hours from home.”
Although the university is still finalizing its Fall 2016 numbers, last year, 30 percent of first-year students were from Illinois, Bassett said.
According to the school’s website, the University of Iowa welcomed 5,241 new first-year students in fall 2015, or roughly nearly 1,600 from Illinois.
Out-of-state tuition at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., is $14,110, for 2016-17, according to the university. Missouri State also allows students from Illinois to apply for an out-of-state fee waiver, which affords Illinois students the opportunity to enjoy the same rates that Missouri students pay. That cuts tuition by nearly half – to $7,060 per academic year.
“We need to make everything that we do as a state more efficient, but it’s really easy to see the effect of it in higher education,” Batinick said.