Central Illinois faces education cuts, responds to falling enrollment

schoolnewsAs enrollments drop, local colleges and universities are tightening the reigns on spending as the winds of change affect the state’s higher education.
The environment for higher education is changing. And it’s taking its toll on colleges and universities across the state.
The rising cost of a college education has caused many high school graduates to work a year or two to save funds rather than head straight into college. Consequently, the decreasing number of students enrolling has led to increased competition among institutions of higher learning.
What’s more, the number of students graduating from high school continues to fall. According to a report released by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education in 2013, the United States peaked at approximately 3.4 million graduates in 2011. Since then, the country has witnessed a slow decline. Illinois, it is projected, will see between a 5-15 percent change in the number of public and non-pubic high school graduates up until the year 2020.
Changes in the number of high school graduates enrolling coupled with the steep cost of tuition is compounded by less flexibility when it comes to handing out grants, causing increasing numbers of students to attend school out of state where tuition is less.
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Peoria’s own Bradley University cut nearly $7 million from its budget in June of this year after freshmen enrollment decreased by over 100 students creating a $2 million budget deficit. The enormous cut will hopefully mean the university will not have to make cuts in 2015.
Some state universities have responded to the decreased enrollment by changing their admissions requirements for students, some tweaking their academic profile or increasing financial aid in an effort to attract a greater number of students. Bradley, however, is holding steady on its admissions standards.
Community colleges, such as Illinois Central College, have also witnessed a decline in student enrollment with approximately 11,000 students enrolling this fall. Enrollment for classes online, however, has increased.
Findings uncovered by The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), in a survey of private, non-profit four-year colleges conducted in early July, echo the aforesaid themes believed to contribute to the changing environment of higher education across the country:
According to the NACUBO “ . . . net-tuition revenue remained stagnant, with growth estimated at slightly more than one percent. Adjusted for inflation, colleges have seen no growth on average for well over a decade. Further, enrollment has dropped at half of the more than 400 institutions surveyed with respondents arguing that sensitivity to high sticker prices, a smaller pool of traditional applicants, and increasing competition contributed most directly to enrollment pressure.”
What’s in Store for Higher Education?
Challenges pertaining to enrollment and budget deficits at several universities across the state—including the University of Illinois at Springfield—have left some to question the future of higher education.
The Economist notes that college costs have risen by an average of 1.6 percent above inflation for two decades and that some people may face lifelong education as their jobs become obsolete or replaced with technology.
“I had to take a second job just to send my eighteen year old to college this fall,” says Meredith, a Peoria resident and mother of two. “I don’t know what my husband and I will do when my son graduates in two years. The price of a good education is almost unfair.”
Peoria resident Becca Sherman, now in her third year of college, agrees: “I have financial aid and a good scholarship, but it’s still tough the way tuition has gone up over the last couple years. I’m paying much more now than I was as a freshman. It just keeps getting more and more every year.”
Still, graduate students like Mike McClurry of Springfield, a computer analyst, say the extra cost is well worth the sacrifice. “I’m going to school full time and working full time, and it’s tough, but for me if an advanced degree can get you a job making $80,000 or so a year, it’s definitely worth the effort.”

Sara Browning



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