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March 18, 2008

PUBLIC AGENDA TASK FORCE TO REVIEW STATE'S EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

First meeting of planning group will examine study showing 'prosperity gap' by race and region in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The task force formed to map the future of Illinois higher education will hold its inaugural meeting Thursday, March 20, to review a draft study of the state’s public needs that shows both economic strengths and ominous trends in jobs, educational attainment, and population growth.

The Task Force created to develop A Public Agenda for Illinois Higher Education: Planning for College and Career Success will meet at 9 a.m. at DePaul University’s Loop campus in room 924 of the CTI Building at 243 South Wabash in Chicago.

“This is a milestone event for the State of Illinois,” Senator Ed Maloney, Senate sponsor of the legislative resolution that launched the Public Agenda process, said. “We have high expectations that this Task Force will create a public agenda for the state that will enable us to close the educational and economic gaps that endanger the state’s future.” Maloney, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, is a member of the Task Force.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and sponsor of House Joint Resolution 69, said, “The changing demands of the economy and emerging needs for postsecondary education mean that Illinois must plan for a very different economic future. We in the General Assembly look forward to the Public Agenda to help inform our future legislative decisions.”

“We are eager for the work of the Task Force to get underway,” said Carrie J. Hightman, Chairwoman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), who also chairs the Task Force. “This planning process is vital to creating a blueprint that will guide policymaking and the allocation of public dollars to meet the educational needs of citizens and protect the economic security of the state. Already the study of public needs has highlighted several soft spots in our educational system that must be addressed for Illinois to be globally competitive.”

The Task Force’s first task will be to scrutinize a draft study of the state’s educational needs, prepared by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit consultancy retained to assist with the Public Agenda initiative.

The emerging portrait of the state from the study is not an altogether flattering one. While the draft Public Needs Report concludes that Illinois residents are reasonably well-educated and the state’s economy generally performs above the national average, it also reveals troublesome demographic and economic trends, difficult challenges for broadening educational attainment, and significant disparities in economic wellbeing for minorities and between regions of the state.

“What we see from this draft report is a prosperity gap among our citizens,” Chairwoman Hightman said. “While these preliminary findings highlight some positive traits, they also show us that we have much work to do to ensure that all Illinoisans – regardless of racial or ethnic background, and no matter where they reside – share equally in the educational and economic benefits this state has to offer.”

NCHEMS, widely regarded as the premier experts in the nation in helping develop state plans, is examining the education and economic needs of Illinois and policies that foster or inhibit the state in meeting those needs. Its draft Public Needs Report is the first phase of the study that is to produce a Public Agenda for Illinois Higher Education later this year.

Among the major findings of the draft needs report are:

Population and Demographics: Illinois’ population will grow more slowly than the nation as a whole. Growth will be almost exclusively in the Chicagoland area. Minorities will increasingly comprise a larger portion of the workforce. Whites will be the fastest growing subpopulation only among retirees.

Educational attainment: Illinois’ population is relatively well educated. The state has a lower proportion of its population with only a high school diploma or less, and a higher proportion with a college education than the U.S. average. However, beneath the surface of the averages lies huge disparities between races and regions of the state. Whites are much more likely to have a college degree, particularly at the bachelor’s level and above, than blacks or Hispanics. Also, the most highly educated live in the Chicago suburbs and a few downstate pockets, while lowest attainment levels are found on Chicago’s south side and vast expanses of rural areas and small cities throughout Illinois. The segment of the population growing most rapidly – racial and ethnic minorities – is the segment most underserved by the educational system.

Educational pipeline: Although Illinois outperforms the national average at all stages of the P-20 pipeline, it is far below attainment levels of the best-performing states. Significant disparities exist at every level of the pipeline between minorities and whites (and Asians), and there are similarly substantial variations by region.

Workforce and economy: The Illinois economy mirrors the national economy, but it has been growing much more slowly than the economies of most other states. While per capita income in Illinois exceeds the national average, it has shown a steady, long-term decline. The most lucrative jobs – those in management and professions – are held by residents in very few parts of the state. Growth in jobs requiring postsecondary training is projected to be lower than all but seven other states. The state depends on the in-migration of educated individuals to meet the needs of its economy. Weaknesses in the Illinois economy include steep region-to-region variations in economic activity and reliance on established industries rather than emerging companies for its economic vitality. Illinois is no better than average in its innovation economy assets.

Future: For Illinois to be globally competitive, the state must improve the educational attainment of its citizens. The state has a greater tax capacity and lower tax effort than many other states, but also, like other states, a long-term structural budget deficit that will likely impede additional resources devoted to higher education. But raising revenues from students also will be difficult. By all measures, the NCHEMS consultants conclude, higher education is substantially less affordable than in 2001.

The draft report identifies five emerging themes from the NCHEMS analysis:

  • Reduce or eliminate disparities between whites and minorities in high school completion, college participation, and college completion.
  • Reduce geographic disparities in college participation.
  • Improve rates of transfer from two-year to four-year institutions.
  • More strongly link the innovation assets of the state to economic development, especially in regions outside the major metropolitan areas.
  • Address issues of affordability.

“This report paints a portrait of two states of Illinois,” Chairwoman Hightman said. “One is well-educated and prosperous, with virtually unlimited opportunities. The other is vastly underserved educationally and struggling economically, with severely constricted opportunities. As this planning process unfolds, we will be working to build a Public Agenda – an action agenda – that closes this prosperity gap and enhances opportunity for all residents of Illinois.”

The Task Force was named by Governor Blagojevich, as directed by House Joint Resolution 69, adopted by the General Assembly in its spring 2007 session and includes members from business, labor, educational institutions and associations, the healthcare industry, and other stakeholders. In addition to formal meetings of the Task Force, NCHEMS and the IBHE staff will conduct a series of regional forums and public hearings in coming months to receive feedback on the needs report, the audit of existing policies, and the preliminary public agenda.

The complete Public Needs Report is available on the Board of Higher Education website at www.ibhe.org.

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