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How Illinois Families Can Benefit From Higher Education Reform


There is little debate that an educated society is to the benefit of all its members. While this is a fairly easy concept to get behind, the reality of higher education in America is that the betterment of society is not its only function; higher education is also a business. It is the culmination of these competing functions that have led to the student loan crisis we find ourselves in today. But what is there to do? The high price tag of higher learning doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and it’s not like we can just take the strain off of students and their families and put it on to the state…or can we?

Much Needed Higher Education Reform

If you ask Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the answer is not only that we can, but we should; with caveats. It is easy to see that something must be done; the argument is over how to do it. Scott Walker is taking the brunt of the financial burdens and attempting to shift it to the state budget with a series of measures designed to cut costs for students. A five-year tuition freeze has helped to stop the bleeding of ever increasing costs. Walter now wants to also reduce tuition by 5% beginning in 2018.  Furthermore, to avoid having the UW system to make further cuts, he expects it will be paid for with 35 million from taxpayers.  What’s more, he plans to spend another 100 million of tax payer’s money to reduce the fees students currently pay for various services. Universities, however, will only get the additional funds based on performance on four-year graduation rates, employment rates, and finding other ways to reduce costs.  He is also requiring more 3-year degree programs and paid internship opportunities, as well as incentivizing students toward technical colleges. These changes could lead to a major shift in higher education reform, returning the focus to employment rates instead of tuition costs.

Reform Around the Country

San Francisco now offers “free” community college to all of its residents. While community colleges do not typically yield more competitive bachelor degrees, the associate degrees they do offer often translate into 2 years at a 4-year institution which would create a massive financial head-start.

Oregon has a similar program in place called the Oregon Promise, which offers free community college to all who graduate from high school. The Oregon promise itself is modeled after the similar Tennessee promise. Where does the money come from? In order to enroll you must fill out the FAFSA, this is extremely important as the majority of people who’ll take advantage of the program are from lower income families who’ll qualify for enough Federal aid to cover the costs. The idea of free community college is great, but it is programs like Governor Walker’s that are most likely to have long-lasting ramifications in the battle to reform the current, less than ideal status quo of higher education. Shifting the financial responsibility to the state from the student is an idea that seems to be picking up steam all over the United States, though it has yet to reach Illinois.

How These Reforms Help Illinois Residents

At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “how does this help me and my child as Illinois residents?” There really isn’t a short answer, beyond the fact that you have new options. As of right now, there are no plans for free community college in Illinois, there have been no major pushes for anything close to what Governor Walker has implemented and you have to be a resident in the other states mentioned to take advantage of their programs.

Technically, it is not impossible to move and gain resident status in an attempt to take advantage of states offering free college. Some states, such as New York, have relatively lax resident status rules. However, you’ll more often find it a tall, fairly life-altering order, as either one or both parent must move with the student to meet residency requirements.

These advancements are not irrelevant to you, though. Your student can still benefit from the application of out of state initiatives like Governor Walker’s in the form of 3-year programs and curriculum with a focus on internships. The old adage of in-state schools being the better value may no longer be the case. While tuition rates may, in fact, be lower for an Illinois state school, an out of state school with better internship programs, and a better employment rate, that you can finish faster is likely to be the better bet in the long run. Who knows, if these programs are successful around the country, it may only be a matter of time before they are also adopted here. It’s difficult to say, while students may not be footing the bill, calling these educations “free” might be a bit of a misnomer. Somebody has to pay, and that somebody is the state, which means the taxpayers. Only time will tell how it all works out.

To stay fully apprised of the ever-changing situation, visit My College Planning Team.com, set up a free consultation and find out which options work best for your specific situation. Higher education reform is in everyone’s best interest, hopefully, it doesn’t take Illinois too long to realize it.

Jim Slowik

Jim Slowik strategizes for families of all incomes to leave no stone unturned to reduce college costs. Jim has worked for over 30 years in marketing and management with 20 of those years in financially related industries. As a parent of college students, Jim understands the challenges of navigating the college process. He holds a Bachelors of Marketing from North Central College.

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