My post about how colleges are diverging into winners and losers drew a ton of excellent comments you should read. phelmon64 led off by saying:
It’s becoming clear that the distance between the various higher education tiers is getting wider. Ivies at the top, Ivy-equivalent private schools next, followed by public elites, small private liberal arts schools, big public/land grant schools — and then the rest. At some point states can (and must) do their share to help the public elites and land grant types, but I’m concerned about the future for small private liberal arts schools and the “directional state” schools.
Frank the Tank chimed in, talking about Illinois in particular:
I don’t think cutting off support for directional schools is a good thing… but the problem is that it has happened already (particularly in places like Illinois), so it’s already a “here and now” problem. That support has been cut off for public elites and flagships, too, but they generally have larger endowments and research grants to maintain their programs. The educational marketplace seems to be reflecting the universal economic marketplace where there’s a flight to quality and there is a critical mass of winners and an even larger critical mass of “losers” with very little in between.
To be sure, it makes sense in a certain way and we see it play out all of the time in Illinois. When an Illinois resident doesn’t get into the University of Illinois and then has a choice between going to Eastern Illinois or, say, the University of Missouri for not much more in tuition price, that person is choosing the latter more than ever before since that out-of-state flagship has a bigger brand name, higher academic rankings, power conference sports, etc.
Now, as others have noted, this shakeout is already starting with a decline in college-age kids and state support for colleges. Being in Chicago, my kids are hard targets for out-of-state college recruiters because they know, for example, that the sticker price of a state school in Ohio is only a few thousand more than one in Illinois, and that you’re going to pay $38,000 a year out-of-state for a Big Ten school such as Iowa rather than $30,000 a year in-state for a directional school. (And in many cases the Big Ten school is just as close.) SEC schools are recruiting Chicago particularly hard, especially Alabama. Suddenly I see Alabama stuff all over, and I live in Oak Lawn, in a perceived (but not true) lesser educational area.
Frank the Tank adds some stats from one local school to the equation:
One of the Naperville public high schools does put out a list of colleges where at least 4 members of its graduating class matriculate. (The graduating class is about 750 students and it’s almost always in top 10 non-selective enrollment schools in the state in terms of test scores.) Last year, predictably, the University of Illinois and College of DuPage (the local community college) had the highest number of matriculators along with perennial out-of-state Chicago area favorites like Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue. However, there were definitely some out-of-state public schools that have reputations of providing great merit aid that were also on that list (and would have rarely seen 10 years ago) such as Alabama, Missouri, Iowa State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Miami (Ohio), Wisconsin-Whitewater (*not* Madison) and Kentucky. To be sure, it wasn’t all cost-based since there were plenty of notoriously expensive schools on that list, too, such as Northwestern, Michigan (huge out-of-state tuition), Berkeley (ditto) and Colorado (ditto again). However, the pool of out-of-state options that have become “hot” in this area due to competitive tuition pricing has grown very quickly over the past decade.
Who wasn’t on that list? Not a single one of the Illinois “directional” schools. NONE. That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but that’s becoming the new reality (and while this is just one example, you’ll see that similarly-situated suburban school districts are showing the same types of matriculation patterns).
This week Crain’s Chicago Business is out with an article that adds another piece of context on this. Illinois is the second leading exporter of high school grads to out of state schools.
Back in 2000, just 20,507 Illinois high school graduates, or 17 percent of the state’s total, exited. But by 2016, that number had jumped to 35,445, or a third, according to a report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The most recent national figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics show that Illinois had the worst “outmigration” of any state except for New Jersey in 2014.
“There is no doubt that in the last few years we have seen an uptick in students choosing to leave the state,” says Barbara Wilson, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Illinois System. “Part of that is because of the aggressive recruitment and scholarship offers . . . but part of it has to be tagged to our own state challenges.”
Luring students away from Illinois are 115 full-time Chicago recruiters representing about 80 U.S. colleges and universities based outside Illinois. Their Chicago Area Regional Representatives association had just 42 members in 2004 but has grown to become the second-biggest local chapter in their national organization.
Kids leaving the state to attend school isn’t a bad thing and arguably is a good thing, not just for them but for the state. But it’s bad news for the state’s second tier “directional schools.”
What to do about this? The well-respected government finance watchdog the Civic Federation recently floated the idea of shutting several of these schools down.
Potentially even more unpopular is the federation’s call to create a bipartisan commission “to rationalize the state’s higher education system.” The federation notes that six of the state’s 12 university campuses have seen their enrollment drop since 2008, with only two up since 2015: The University of Illinois campuses at Urbana-Champaign and Chicago. With the population of high school students also dropping, the federation says, “The commission should consider the elimination of duplicative higher education programs, reallocation of resources across programs and campuses and the closure or consolidation of campuses.” Particularly weak have been Northeastern, Southern, Western and Eastern Illinois Universities, and Chicago State University. As a first step, the Civic Fed adds, the state should concentrate management of the schools under fewer boards.
Illinois is somewhat unique in that it’s a huge state with really one major state flagship school, the University of Illinois at Champaign. Much smaller Indiana has two public Big Ten schools, as does Michigan. But directional schools are suffering in other states too. Enrollment is down at places like Western Michigan and the University of Akron. This will be a significant challenge for the states, the schools, and the communities that are dependent on these institutions economically. Keep an eye on the pending college shakeout.