Pritzker cites rise in enrollment through Illinois during state address

By Dan Doren

DeKALB — Gov. J.B. Pritzker spoke of state efforts to expand educational opportunities, invest in infrastructure and create jobs in his State of the State address Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

Pritzker noted gains in Illinois-university student enrollment following a period of decline, anticipating that enrollment will continue to grow through increased scholarship opportunities for “an additional 10,000 college-bound students.”

Overall enrollment among undergraduate and graduate students at Illinois public universities increased by 0.3% between fall 2018 and fall 2019, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. However, it’s still a drop of 4.8% since fall 2015, with NIU’s enrollment experiencing a 16.5% drop — 2,723 students fewer — over this period.

Pritzker also listed the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Illinois Commitment, a financial aid initiative that will cover four years of tuition for eligible in-state students, as a way of driving up enrollment.

To qualify for Illinois Commitment, the applicant must have a family income of $67,100 or less, be under 24 years old, be admitted as a first-year or transfer student, have graduated from an Illinois high school and enroll for at least 12 hours a semester, according to the Illinois Commitment website.

“This fall, more than half of the families in our state will be eligible for free tuition at the University of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

NIU will be offering a similar program starting fall 2020 called Huskie Pledge, which requires that applicants have a household income of $75,000 or less, a GPA of 3.0 or higher and full-time first-year enrollment status.

As part of Rebuild Illinois, the state pledged more than $3 billion to higher education institutions, $100 million of which was allocated to a quantum engineering project called the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

Pritzker said Rebuild Illinois, a $44.8 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill signed in June, will “create and support 500,000 jobs” aimed at repairing roads and bridges, expanding broadband internet access and upgrading public institutions, including colleges and universities.

“Rebuild Illinois is about more than just roads, bridges and universities,” he said. “It’s about jobs — middle class careers with wages and benefits, the kind of jobs that help you raise a family.”

The Chicago Quantum Exchange is a partnership between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and, more recently, UIUC. The partnership “aims to promote the exploration of quantum information technologies and the development of new applications,” according to its website.

Pritzker said the $100 million investment in the Chicago Quantum Exchange project sets a foundation to bring more well-paying technology jobs to Illinois.

“[This investment] will make Illinois the quantum computing capital of the world,” he said.

Other issues that received attention in Pritzker’s address include health care, public safety, clean energy, property taxes and ethics reforms.