Commission to begin study of how to pay for higher education in Illinois

Commission to begin study of how to pay for higher education in Illinois

CHICAGO – A panel to study higher education finance in Illinois and recommend options for the General Assembly has its first meeting Tuesday.

The Higher Education Finance Study Commission is made up of legislators, academic finance experts, and a cross-section of education, business, labor and nonprofit leaders. The meeting is being held at the University of Illinois at Chicago Student Center.

The commission was created by Senate Joint Resolution 88, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Maloney, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, both of whom will serve on the panel.

Two Urbana campus veterans, Walter McMahon, an economics professor emeritus at the UI, and Steve Rugg, former chief financial officer, are part of the group.

McMahon said Monday that he believes higher education is underfunded nationwide, but especially in this state, and he will bring the social value of education to the discussion.

"The charge of the commission is to look at financing, but there is also a narrower focus of trying to increase completion rates, which are a problem nationwide, not so much as the UI, where the rate is close to 83 percent," McMahon said.

McMahon said he will stress the social value of education, from the elementary school level to post-graduate, in increasing health knowledge, salaries and other measures of the quality of life.

"We need to have financial incentives for (completing ) higher education," he said.

McMahon is the author of "Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private and Social Benefits of Higher Education," published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

McMahon's research suggests a college degree can bring job opportunities, higher earnings and better health, as well as promoting democracy and sustainable growth and reducing crime and welfare and prison costs.

"Illinois has a rather terrible record of investing in education; we're very low among the states. As a result, we have a large skill deficit, which is part of the reason middle-class earnings have not been rising since the 1980," McMahon said.

Jane Wellman, the executive director of the Delta Cost Project and a national expert on college funding and productivity, will be featured at the commission's first meeting.

The commission will also:

– Evaluate funding for Illinois higher education and compare it to peer states and institutions around the nation.

– Develop a funding strategy that connects state appropriations, tuition policies and need-based student aid.

– Consider alternative funding mechanisms to advance the goals of the Illinois Public Agenda, including improved student retention, program completion and graduation.

The finance study will be conducted over the course of five meetings during the summer and fall.

Other commission members include Al Bowman, president of Illinois State University, and Terry Bruce, chancellor of Illinois Eastern Community Colleges;

Illinois Board of Higher Education members Jay Bergman and the Rev. John Minogue, and Sue Morris, vice chair of the Illinois Community College Board, will also serve.