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OUR VIEW: Funding MAP grants for 4 years a boost; but more needed

THE ISSUE: Legislation is aimed to attract more students to Illinois universities
OUR VIEW: Proposal only a small part of issue; but much needed

Illinois lawmakers are finally catching on that it is a problem when high school grads enroll in well-funded universities, meaning those outside of Illinois. The bright young people don't come back to Illinois to energize this workforce or pay taxes.

From 1991 to 2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges decreased by 50,000 students. Since the 1960s, Illinois has been a net negative exporter of college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The problem is increasing. In 2000 about one in six Illinois students attended college outside of the state, but by 2016 that doubled to one in three students.

A task force tackled the issue. So far they have learned Illinois students most often choose between Illinois universities and none of the above, meaning they stay home because they likely don't have money for tuition. The most popular out-of-state destination is University of Alabama for Illinois exiles.

The Illinois Monetary Award Program, known as MAP grants, are one-year scholarships. One bill co-sponsored by State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, aimed to give students more of a guarantee the grants will be there for four years, not just one. That's what out-of-state universities often offer.

"This legislation would give the same tool-kit to universities in Illinois when they make a pitch to students," Rezin said in a press statement. "That would help us compete for students."

The goal is worthy, because we need Illinois youths to contribute to their hometowns. It should help students choosing between an education, and nothing. But Illinois lawmakers are not done. There also will need to be a long-term strategy made. Then they need to stick to it.

Illinois universities for decades have been jerked in many directions by lawmakers. Demands for tuition control at the same time state funding is cut. The two-year budget impasse created a crisis with those MAP grants and left universities borrowing and cutting.

The pressure was felt at the junior college level as well with Illinois Valley Community College. The college committed necessary funds to its MAP grants program. The college also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its endowment to support students in financial need — all while seeing its budget take a hit.

A solid plan, and a long-term commitment from state leaders to fund and set policy, would go a long way to making us attractive rather than repellent.

We're happy to see data being used from the state's task force and a first step taken in funding MAP grants for four years, but it's treating the symptom, not the cause of the problem. And that goes back to funding our institutions.

This editorial was created by The Times using information and excerpts from an Associated Press-shared editorial produced by the Belleville News-Democrat

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