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January 29, 2007

Briefing for IBHE to Highlight Innovation As Vital Link to Economic Growth

SPRINGFIELD – Innovation will be the key to Illinois’ ability to compete in the global marketplace and education will be the key to building an innovative workforce.

That is the message Robert Sheets, a senior policy adviser at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, will deliver to members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) at their meeting February 6 in Springfield.

According to Sheets, competition in the global knowledge-based economy will increasingly depend on the ability of businesses and workers to be innovative in developing new ideas and new approaches. As a result, education – particularly higher levels of schooling across the P-20 educational pipeline – has become the vital credential for success. In addition, the state will have to address shortages in key occupational sectors, such as the high-demand science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) disciplines.

In the emerging knowledge economy, Sheets says, more jobs will require some postsecondary education and skills beyond those that come with a high school diploma.

“We are fortunate to be able to share the research and analysis that Bob Sheets will bring to our discussion of important P-16 education issues, and the critical link between greater educational attainment and economic opportunity,” Judy Erwin, IBHE Executive Director, said.

In action scheduled for their February 6 meeting, Board members will act on allocation of $1.5 million in grants to expand and improve nursing programs. The Nursing School Grant Program is part of an initiative undertaken by the Blagojevich Administration to address the statewide shortage of nurses. Another piece of that initiative – the Nurse Educator Fellowship Program – was approved by the Board in December with awards of 15 fellowships worth $10,000 each to exemplary nursing faculty. Additional parts of the Governor’s initiative are administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

The competitive nursing school grants are a two-pronged effort to increase the number of registered nurses. Just over $1.3 million of the grants will be allocated to expansion grants, and the remainder to improvement grants.

Expansion grants will enable recipients to hire additional faculty, develop or expand instructional programs or academic support services, increase classroom and clinical space, and purchase equipment and instructional materials. To be eligible for the expansion grants, an institution must have a pass rate of at least 90 percent on national nursing licensure exams and an attrition rate of no more than 15 percent.

Improvement grants will go to institutions with pass rates below 90 percent and attrition rates in excess of 15 percent and will be aimed at improving instruction and support services, classroom space, and upgrading equipment and instructional materials.

The Board will receive a report on a comprehensive study of textbook rental programs and alternative cost-saving measures to reduce the financial burden students face from the escalating cost of required course materials.

The study concludes that a statewide textbook rental program for all public colleges and universities would be financially feasible, if a source of revenue was found to cover the enormous start-up costs, estimated at approximately $313 million. Among the study’s key findings, are:

  • Annual textbook costs for students range from $941 to $1,027 at community colleges and $735 to $891 at public universities, based on the initial purchase of textbooks and not accounting for resale by students at the end of the semester.
  • Factors that most influence price increases for textbooks include the practice of packaging supplemental course materials with textbooks, known as “bundling”; frequent turnover of new editions; and textbook adoption practices, particularly whether faculty select course materials in time for bookstores to obtain an adequate supply of used books.
  • Mandatory fees would be required to support the operational costs (and perhaps start-up costs) of textbook rental programs. Rental programs could necessitate more funding for the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP) to shield low-income students from fee increases.

The report noted several options for the state, for institutions and faculty, and for publishers to consider to help curtail textbook expenses for students. Among the alternative measures:

  • Prohibit faculty or academic departments from benefiting financially from textbook adoptions.
  • Require that textbooks be sold separate from supplementary materials.
  • Require publishers to provide the wholesale price of textbooks and a revision history of course materials to faculty.
  • Support a public information campaign to increase faculty awareness of textbook prices and the need for timely submission of textbook selections.

The Board of Higher Education was directed to undertake the study, in conjunction with the Illinois Community College Board, by Senate Resolution 692, sponsored by Senator Mattie Hunter and passed by the Senate in spring 2006.


Don Sevener



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