Much has been made recently of a new-found sense of unity at the state Capitol, and rightly so. After years of bitter partisan fighting, Democrats and Republicans came behind a new state budget and left Springfield with a renewed sense that compromise and cooperation are essential and very possible with the right mindset.
But we should not take a shortsighted view of this important moment. It has been in the works for many months amongst our group of lawmakers who understand our state’s higher education system depends on a united effort to rebound and rebuild.
Last year, a group of Democrats and Republicans with leadership positions on the higher education committees in the Legislature came together with big dreams and a bigger commitment to turning them into new hope for our colleges and universities. The end product is a package of legislation that should make all of us proud and hopeful.
Our higher education struggles have become widely known. As our attendance has declined in recent years and funding was held in limbo during the budget impasse, families and current and potential students worried. Some who planned to attend school here went elsewhere. Others couldn’t afford to go at all.
And with every student who made that tough choice not to attend an Illinois college or university came huge ripples: for those students and their families, knowing they might not return to live and work here; for the campus educators and support staff whose careers were not uncertain; and for the many communities who depend on a thriving higher education system to fuel their success.
Our Higher Education Working Group policy agenda helps answer these questions definitively. Yes, we want all students to stay, grow and thrive in Illinois.
The platform is diverse. We are working feverishly to better understand why students sometimes fall through the cracks when they transfer to new schools, and how to prevent that moving forward. We are providing a critical four-year commitment so MAP grant students can afford to attend and finish college, not take it year by year. We are creating a new merit-based scholarship program called AIM HIGH to help give students the access and affordability they need to reach their full potential.
We also are giving our campuses more tools to invest in making long overdue repairs and improvements to their buildings and grounds, and collecting more information voluntarily from our K-12 students to better understand what they want in the college experience and how we can provide it within our state borders.
We have more work to do. Each of these initiatives will rightly be judged not on hope and cooperation, but on how well they work to increase enrollment and provide more opportunities for Illinoisans. We stand confidently behind this package as a strong first step toward reclaiming Illinois’ mantle as one of the nation’s best homes for higher education. We did this together, and will build on our progress together, because Illinois cannot afford anything less.
Emanuel “Chris” Welch
State Representative, 7th District
Visit Rep Welch’s website
200-5S Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL 62706
(217) 524-0448 FAX
10055 W. Roosevelt Rd.
Westchester, IL 60154
(708) 450-1104 FAX