Illinois needs to keep its best students

Increasingly, Illinois high school seniors are choosing to take their education elsewhere — out of state.

A recent Associated Press story detailed how 46 percent of the state’s high school graduates seeking higher education now go to college in other states. That figure is up markedly compared to 2002, when it was 29 percent.

Enrollment at the state’s public universities has dropped from 204,781 in 2009 to 188,405, a loss of 16,376. It’s as though one college just disappeared.

There are two problems here. The first is the economic effect of lost students: fewer persons paying rent, buying groceries and so on. The second, more serious problem, is the brain drain. Many of the brightest are going elsewhere, and many won’t return.

Illinois has lost population for years. Certainly the state’s budget debacle does not help, nor does the steady drumbeat for higher taxes. If you succeed in Illinois, you will pay more. Those most likely to succeed are trying their luck elsewhere. With 40 years of a professional career ahead of you, Illinois is a tough sell.

A bill in the Illinois legislature aims to address some of the decline. The plan involves simplifying college applications, guaranteeing admission for “B” students and shifting more student aid to the best students to keep them home.

States have long competed to keep businesses by luring them with tax deals. Illinois needs to remember some people are leaving or staying based on the same principles. Are our costs reasonable, weighed against our benefits?

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