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November 25, 2008

IBHE SET TO LAUNCH PLAN TO ERASE STATE'S 'PROSPERITY GAP'

Public Agenda for College and Career Success designed to close education achievement gap, restore college affordability, build stronger economy

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois is a tale of two states. One is prosperous, highly educated, and economically secure. The other lives paycheck to paycheck, if there is a paycheck, with job prospects stuck in neutral or going in reverse, lacking college credentials in a world economy that is unforgiving of the undereducated.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education is set to act on a long-range blueprint – the Public Agenda for College and Career Success – for the state and its higher education system to bridge that divide and pave the future with increased education attainment and economic growth.

“This is truly a milestone for the state of Illinois,” said Carrie J. Hightman, Chairwoman of the IBHE and of the special Task Force empanelled to develop a long-range master plan for higher education. “The Public Agenda process revealed a significant prosperity gap in Illinois, affecting persons of color and those who reside in certain geographic regions of the state. The Public Agenda is an action agenda for the state and our P-20 education system to widen the pathway to educational opportunity and economic vitality for all Illinoisans, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or where they live.”

The Board is scheduled to endorse the Public Agenda for College and Career Success at its December 8 th meeting at National-Louis University in Chicago.

The Public Agenda Task Force, which gave its blessing to the final report on November 21, identified four goals to drive the state’s education policies and budgets over the next decade:

  • Increase educational attainment to match the best-performing U.S. states and world countries.
  • Ensure college affordability for students, families, and taxpayers.
  • Increase the number of quality postsecondary credentials to meet demands of the economy.
  • Better integrate Illinois’ educational, research, and innovation assets to meet economic needs of the state and its regions.

Senator Edward Maloney, Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a member of the Public Agenda Task Force, commented: “I believe the Public Agenda is an ambitious, but achievable roadmap for the state. The General Assembly will be taking up many of the ideas and recommendations presented in this agenda because to do otherwise would be to risk the long-term economic decline of Illinois.” Maloney was the Senate sponsor of the legislative resolution that created the Task Force.

Representative Naomi Jakobsson, another Task Force member and Vice Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, said, “I applaud the emphasis on affordability. As the Public Agenda report clearly demonstrates, Illinois has lost ground in recent years in ensuring that students have access to college regardless of their financial circumstances. The Public Agenda offers strategies that will help restore Illinois to the head of the class in college affordability.”

Senator Brad Burzynski, the Minority Spokesman on the Senate Higher Education Committee and a member of the Task Force, noted, “This planning process has been very open and collaborative, and has earned the support of all higher education stakeholders dedicated to raising educational attainment for those who have for too long been underrepresented in the classrooms of our postsecondary institutions. The state’s economic future may very well rest on achieving the goals of the Public Agenda.”

Representative Chapin Rose also served on the Task Force. “The public agenda is a step by step, year by year process during which we will keep asking:  Is it working?” Rose said. “This is an important document to guide us in making policies and allocating resources. ”

The Public Agenda is premised on the urgent need to increase education attainment in the state to meet present and emerging economic and workforce needs. The planning process has been driven by a report on the state’s public education and economic needs prepared by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a nonprofit research center that has assisted many states develop master plans. The needs report showed significant disparities in education attainment affecting racial and ethnic minorities and various regions of the state and, in turn, widespread gaps in well-paid jobs and economic activity. The needs report also revealed a need to expand creation of degrees in critical skills fields, such as healthcare and information technology. Finally, there is a disconnect between the state’s enviable research capacity at universities and translating that innovation into new economic activity in Illinois.

The agenda proposes a series of recommended strategies and action steps to achieve the four goals, while noting that the plan will extend over at least a decade and be subjected to a formal top-to-bottom review within 5 years.

To address the state’s education and workforce needs, the Public Agenda recommends:

  • Improving college readiness through:
    • Participation in the American Diploma Project to align a rigorous P-20 curriculum with college and workplace expectations.
    • Leveraging student financial aid to provide incentives for high school students to take a rigorous college-prep curriculum.
    • Obviating the need for remediation of recent high school graduates through high school/postsecondary partnerships to identify and correct gaps in knowledge and skills before the student leaves high school.
    • Increasing high-quality dual-credit opportunities for all high school students.

  • Protecting affordability through:
    • Developing funding strategies that connects state appropriations, tuition, and student financial aid.
    • Exploring the viability of a “shared responsibility” model of student aid in which the student is responsible for a fixed, “first-dollar” commitment and the state is responsible for covering the remaining need through a “last-dollar” commitment.
    • Helping students complete their degrees sooner through dual credit programs that give high school students a jump on college, better high school preparation, and incentives for students who finish their degrees more quickly.

  • Increasing the number of postsecondary credentials through:
    • Providing incentives to working adults and employers for degree completion.
    • Developing assessment tools to measure a student’s readiness to enter the workforce.
    • Expanding an online course transferability system to help students to better plan their academic careers.
    • Offering incentives to two- and four-year institution partnerships for baccalaureate completion programs on or near community college campuses.
    • Establishing grants for regional public/private partnerships for expansion of academic programs in critical fields.

  • Building a stronger connection between university research and innovation assets and economic development through:
    • Restoring the matching grant program that provides seed money for institutions seeking federal grants. The $9.5 million program returned $10-12 in grants for each dollar invested by the state, before it was vetoed from the budget.
    • Supporting business incubators, particularly in regions that lack sufficient local resources, to stimulate research and development technology transfer and small business innovation.
    • Providing tax incentives to help fill the gap in financing between seed money and venture capital.
    • Expanding the Cooperative Work Study Program for paid internships and cooperative work experiences.

“The Board’s consideration of the Public Agenda for College and Career Success represents the end of a valuable planning process,” Chairwoman Hightman said. “But, more importantly, it represents a beginning for the Board of Higher Education, for the legislature and Governor, and for the higher education community. Members of the General Assembly said to us: ‘Give us a plan.’ Here’s the plan. We look forward eagerly to working with the legislature and office of the Governor to make this Public Agenda a living document, an action plan that will improve the educational and economic life of Illinois and its people.”

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