New legislation aims to keep more students at Illinois colleges and universities.
Democratic Representative Lou Lang says high school grads are leaving Illinois in droves for out of state schools...with up to 35 percent never returning. He says his three-pronged bill could help slow that trend.
"First, an affordability grant that allows good students who are working hard, who have need, the opportunity to get some help from the state. Second, a pot of money for our state universities to retain and reach out and find new faculty. And third, debt relief for students in Illinois."
Lang says the grant program is for students from families earning less than 125 thousand dollars a year. Grants would be capped at four thousand dollars, and participants would have to maintain a "B" average.
Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi says the national landscape has changed on this issue.
"We've seen a broad national movement around making higher education affordable and accessible. This sort of crisis of student debt has become a really central topic in the political debate around this country."
Democratic Representative Christian Mitchell says this bill is needed because higher education institutions drive the state's economy in many locations.
"Places like Macomb, like Charleston, like Carbondale, as well as the south side of Chicago. They generate over $50 billion in economic activity every single year. An investment in our universities is an investment in the economic future of Illinois, not just in our major metropolitan areas, but in towns where the university is the driver of all economic growth."
Mitchell says state budget cuts to higher education cause ripple effects through these communities.
"The challenge is you've seen housing prices in Carbondale drop by 32%. You've seen increased job loss on the south side of Chicago due to cuts at Chicago State University. You've seen similar effects in Macomb and Charleston for EIU and for WIU."
The lawmakers say this would take effect in 2018-19 and they've made this legislation subject to appropriation because they don't know what the economic picture will look like due to the ongoing budget impasse.