Study reveals a tale of two States

By Danny Ciamprone

One part of Illinois is well educated and economically booming; the other is self-destructing and failing to keep its head above water.

This is according to a new study conducted by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The report states, “underperformance among low-income, African American, Hispanic and rural students in Illinois is threatening the state’s economic future.”

The Board has also made several YouTube videos highlighting its studies. Executive Director G.W. Reid said these videos are meant to capture the imagination. Reid argues if Illinois does not solve the economic and educational achievement gap, then two kinds of citizens will emerge.

“One group is supporting and creating a vibrant economy,” Reid said. “The other is depending on the economy to help them through terrible times. They are not exactly liabilities because they are citizens of the state, but they are dependent on the state and not as productive as perhaps they could be.”

As a result, Reid said this second group is not contributing and therefore diminishing an economy trying to be vibrant.

This new study is not based on a racial gap, but rather a geographic one.

“There are more people in the suburbs, and in the city, where there is new development and people are doing well and have a great middle class and jobs,” Reid said. “Then, there are portions of our cities where development is old, and the buildings are on the verge of being dilapidated. That’s the demarcation line.”

In addition to the city, Reid said there are a number of people in the urban setting who are trying to make farmland work, which is difficult because their crops have been depressed in the current market. Reid said geographically some people are doing quite well, while others are not.

The main way to combat this, Reid said, is to provide higher education opportunities for this second group.

Don Sevener, deputy director for external relations for IBHE, said because of affordability and location, there is a huge drop off in secondary education among minorities and rural residents. There are some strategies in place though, to combat this.

“One major [strategy] is where 26 states are aiming to raise the educational level in Illinois to 60 percent,” Sevener said. “Right now it’s at 41 percent, and we want to do it within 16 years.”

Another solution Sevener identified is using performance-based funding to reward universities based on performance rates of students.

According to a report by Illinois Asset Building Group, only 25 percent of Hispanics and 29 percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in college. This is compared to 45 percent who are white in the same age group.

“I think there’s a whole host of reasons for this,” said Gina Guillemette, director of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights. “Some are historic as far as discrimination, and others are just the impact of existing values.”

Guillemette said one important aspect is whether or not people have savings to pursue higher education. Many times lower class families are in too much poverty to pursue education after high school.

Reid said many economists project college graduates make twice, sometimes three times as much depending on their field of study as opposed to those not pursuing college.