Pritzker plans to conquer higher education struggle by targeting enrollment

Sophia Mullowney

DeKALB — Gov. J.B. Pritzker has plans for addressing enrollment in higher education, and students can anticipate an increase in financial aid opportunities.

The governor announced a threefold plan for Illinois education reform, targeting increasing college affordability, encouraging Illinois students to attend Illinois schools and supporting economic opportunity and innovation, according to Pritzker’s full higher education plan provided by email through Assistant Press Secretary Alex Hanns.

NIU President Lisa Freeman said she’s cautiously anticipating serious action on higher education reform and is eager to see the plan’s policies take effect. She said the features promoting economic development hold a lot of promise for NIU.

“When a new governor comes into office, you wait and see what their position will be in respect to higher education,” Freeman said. “I believe Pritzker understands education is an economic engine for the state and investing in higher education has returns for our state, students and families. He recognizes the importance of investing in the future of Illinois.”

J.B. Pritzker’s media team did not respond to several requests for comment by the Northern Star News Staff by the time of publication. The following information was provided by “JB’s Plan for Higher Education: Growing a Globally Competitive Workforce.”

AFFORDABILITY

The foremost issue Pritzker hopes to combat in the realm of higher education is the growth in cost for the university experience. He cited Illinois’ position as the fifth-highest nationwide for the average cost of tuition and fees at four-year universities.

Pritzker’s specific aims to confront tuition rates include increasing funding to the Monetary Award Program [MAP] by 50 percent and raising the maximum MAP award, introducing a state-administered loan refinancing program, reintegrating funding to community colleges and state schools and piloting a taskforce to explore the possibility of providing fully state-funded college tuition.

ILLINOIS ENROLLMENT

Hitting close to home for NIU students and faculty, Pritzker acknowledged declining enrollment rates at Illinois colleges and universities. Since 2002, Illinois high school graduates have been departing the state in rising numbers, up to 46 percent in 2016.

Pritzker means to restore enrollment at Illinois schools by revamping the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success. This will expand eligibility for the AIM-HIGH financial aid program to 90 percent statewide and create a common application for admission to every public university in Illinois. The plan intends to ensure the transfer of community college credits to public universities and aggressively repair Illinois’ reputation through a goodwill campaign promoting academic institutions.

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY AND INNOVATION

Recognizing the economic opportunity provided by a host of colleges and universities in Illinois, Pritzker hopes to promote the inclusion of post-secondary schools. Part of the inclusion means pursuing equity in enrollment and completion for minority and low-income students. Perhaps the largest component of this specific feature is encouraging partnerships between employers and colleges across the state for both academic and vocational purposes.

Specific goals in mind with this policy include expanding job training programs occurring in partnership between community colleges and businesses and creating a college completion program. The program will offer student services for traditionally underserved communities, spearheading a state entrepreneurship competition at public and private universities. It will also offer state-sponsored grants to university start-ups to enable their chances at federal funding and sustaining state agency efforts to support nontraditional students seeking degrees or work certifications.

FEEDBACK

NIU students have vested interests in Pritzker’s plan and expressed as much in the days since the governor’s swearing-in.

Ian Pearson, president of the College Democrats, said he and others are hopeful the governor’s policies will take effect.

“I feel optimistic we may finally see some positive change to higher [education] policy,” Pearson said. “While NIU has aggressively fought to increase enrollment and retention, we need support from the state government.”

Pearson also works as legislative director for the Student Association [SA] and said it has allowed him to engage with Illinois lawmakers. Last year, SA held a university-wide referendum, which resulted in 88 percent of students voting to grant undocumented students access to institutional funds.

 

Pearson worked to pass a resolution through the SA Senate calling for a stop to an Illinois Board of Higher Education recommendation to divert funding to private academic institutions.

 

“We are working to foster positive relationships with local lawmakers and remain actively informed on DeKalb and state politics,” Pearson said.

 

However, some students expressed doubt in the plan, and Pritzker himself.

 

Akeelah Taylor, vocal musical education performance major, said she doesn’t trust Pritzker’s previous standing as a billionaire as one that would lend itself to governing Illinois, more specifically in solving statewide issues with higher education.

 

“I’m curious to see if he does the things he promised to do,” Taylor said. “I know he ran as a Democrat, but to be a multi-millionaire, I don’t know if that means anything.”

 

Another student, Darren Figginis, sophomore musical education major, said he felt Pritzker to be a different iteration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, just under a different name.

 

Figginis said the governor has a long road ahead of him in getting policies and programs put into action through the Illinois State Legislature.

 

“It’s the mechanisms of state government that [Pritzker’s] going to have to battle with in order to make [the plan] happen,” Figginis said.

 

Although unsure of the potential success of the plan, other students expressed admiration for certain policy features.

 

Steffi Delgado, first-year musical education major, said she appreciates the move to refund state educational programs in low-income communities.

 

“I think it’s good that he wants to put more money into lower-income schools,” Delgado said. “There’s definitely resources missing sometimes. As long as it happens, and as long as [the state] can come together to do it, [the plan] can be really good for Illinois and its students.”

 

NIU administrators also weighed in on Pritzker’s plan.

 

Bob Pritchard, member of the Board of Trustees, said the governor’s policies reflect those he had previously called for during his time serving in the Illinois House of Representatives.

 

“These issues that he’s mentioned, they’re top of the line for us,” Pritchard said. “He’s hitting on points that are very relevant and on target.”

 

Pritchard said the plan reflects what is most needed at NIU. Because of the large proportion of first-generation, low-income and minority students enrolled, he said the economic opportunity and innovation sector of the plan stands to help out the most in the years to come.

 

In addition, Pritchard said he felt strongly about the tactics Pritzker will use to increase enrollment at Illinois schools and restore the state’s reputation.

 

“The governor has valid points; I’m glad to see the clarity in his plan,” Pritchard said. “I look forward to his leadership, and [NIU] will support his efforts and get better results with enrollment, retention and graduation with what the governor is proposing.”

 

Pearson also works as legislative director for the Student Association [SA] and said it has allowed him to engage with Illinois lawmakers. Last year, SA held a university-wide referendum, which resulted in 88 percent of students voting to grant undocumented students access to institutional funds.

 

Pearson worked to pass a resolution through the SA Senate calling for a stop to an Illinois Board of Higher Education recommendation to divert funding to private academic institutions.

 

“We are working to foster positive relationships with local lawmakers and remain actively informed on DeKalb and state politics,” Pearson said.

 

However, some students expressed doubt in the plan, and Pritzker himself.

 

Akeelah Taylor, vocal musical education performance major, said she doesn’t trust Pritzker’s previous standing as a billionaire as one that would lend itself to governing Illinois, more specifically in solving statewide issues with higher education.

 

“I’m curious to see if he does the things he promised to do,” Taylor said. “I know he ran as a Democrat, but to be a multi-millionaire, I don’t know if that means anything.”

 

Another student, Darren Figginis, sophomore musical education major, said he felt Pritzker to be a different iteration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, just under a different name.

 

Figginis said the governor has a long road ahead of him in getting policies and programs put into action through the Illinois State Legislature.

 

“It’s the mechanisms of state government that [Pritzker’s] going to have to battle with in order to make [the plan] happen,” Figginis said.

 

Although unsure of the potential success of the plan, other students expressed admiration for certain policy features.

 

Steffi Delgado, first-year musical education major, said she appreciates the move to refund state educational programs in low-income communities.

 

“I think it’s good that he wants to put more money into lower-income schools,” Delgado said. “There’s definitely resources missing sometimes. As long as it happens, and as long as [the state] can come together to do it, [the plan] can be really good for Illinois and its students.”

 

NIU administrators also weighed in on Pritzker’s plan.

 

Bob Pritchard, member of the Board of Trustees, said the governor’s policies reflect those he had previously called for during his time serving in the Illinois House of Representatives.

 

“These issues that he’s mentioned, they’re top of the line for us,” Pritchard said. “He’s hitting on points that are very relevant and on target.”

 

Pritchard said the plan reflects what is most needed at NIU. Because of the large proportion of first-generation, low-income and minority students enrolled, he said the economic opportunity and innovation sector of the plan stands to help out the most in the years to come.

 

In addition, Pritchard said he felt strongly about the tactics Pritzker will use to increase enrollment at Illinois schools and restore the state’s reputation.

 

“The governor has valid points; I’m glad to see the clarity in his plan,” Pritchard said. “I look forward to his leadership, and [NIU] will support his efforts and get better results with enrollment, retention and graduation with what the governor is proposing.”