Illinois Would Benefit from Affordable Tuition

State of Illinois needs to invest more – not less – in higher education.

A new ILEPI Economic Commentary examines the rising costs of higher education in Illinois’ public 4-year universities and the potential economic gains associated with lowering tuition costs. The full report is available at this link.

The cost of a public 4-year university education is expensive in Illinois. Largely because the State of Illinois only invests $217 per capita in higher education, the annual tuition cost in the state is $20,054 on average for public universities – the 4th-most expensive state in America. Many working-class and middle-class families are struggling to afford college.

Additionally, the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that unease over the lack of state funding has caused a drop in the number of applications at Illinois’ public universities. Western Michigan University expects to enroll its largest freshman class from Illinois ever, while Murray State University in southwest Kentucky says that “applications from some Illinois border counties are up as much as 40 percent.”

Many students from Illinois are deciding to attend college in another nearby state with cheaper tuition, and a portion of these students stay and enter that state’s workforce. In fact, research has found that a 20-percent decrease in tuition can increase the number of college-educated citizens in a state by between 2 and 10 percent. By lowering tuition costs through increased public funding, Illinois lawmakers can halt the outflow of highly-educated citizens from the state.

A 20-percent reduction in tuition costs for students at Illinois’ public universities would require a 0.20 percentage-point increase of the state’s personal income tax, which would be just $3 per week for the average household. At this minimal price, the state could create– or, in the current budgetary climate, save– nearly 3,800 total jobs, mainly at public universities over the short run.

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The policy change would also save or create between 4,700 and 23,500 total jobs and boost the state’s economy by up to $2.6 billion over the long run.

Governor Rauner’s agenda calls for Illinois to cut financial support for state universities. By spending significantly less per capita on higher education, costs are shifted onto poor college students and their families. This move not only makes college less affordable and less accessible to low-income families, it makes Illinois a less attractive place for students to learn and ultimately work. Underinvesting in higher education can have serious long-term effects on a state’s economy.

Illinois must invest in higher education. The state must take action to increase the accessibility of college by lowering tuition costs and to support those in need of financial assistance to attend college.

Higher education builds a skilled workforce and the strong middle class that Illinois needs in a global economy.

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