25 May 2017
House Panel OKs B or Better College Plan Providing Free Tuition, Debt Relief
(Springfield, IL) – An Illinois House panel today approved a plan to make a community college and university education virtually free for all low and middle-income Illinois students who earn a “B” or better grade point average.
The House Higher Education Committee voted 11-7 on Thursday to approve legislation, House Bill 1316, that provides a $4,000 grant annually to college bound students who earn a B or better G.P.A. and whose family earns less than $125,000 annually. This new grant program will provide either “free” tuition and fees at a community college or public university or a significant contribution toward such expenses.
“Under Bruce Rauner, Illinois is hurtling toward a busboy economy because he has financially strangled and destabilized Illinois’ higher education system, causing schools to buckle and students to flee the state,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie). “Our ‘B or Better’ college bill is a dramatic rescue and reinvestment in state universities and community colleges by rewarding students who earn good grades with grants that, in most cases, will provide free tuition throughout their higher education career.”
The grant would be applied to the recipient’s tuition and fee costs, after the application of other institutional and family-certified aid. The bill would also provide debt relief to recent college graduates.
Lang estimates that the legislation, which is effective for the 2018-2019 school year, will cost approximately $300 million in the first year. The proposal has no impact on the current budget debate.
State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), the co-chief sponsor of the measure, said that the legislation is a centerpiece of House Democratic efforts to “revive Illinois manufacturing” and job growth by providing a major boost to the state’s college system.
Mitchell pointed to a 2015 Manufacturing Institute report that found that 72% of U.S. manufacturing executives cited community college vocational programs as their second most important strategy to “mitigate the effects of skills shortages.”
Mitchell also cited the role that the Rock Valley Community College recently played to bring the operator of a $40 million jet repair hub, AAR, Corp., to the Chicago Rockford International Airport, an investment that will create 500-plus jobs.
“In a July 14, 2016 story, the Rockford Register Star reported: ‘What ultimately convinced AAR executives to bet on Rockford was Rock Valley College’s decision to expand its aviation maintenance program. The college built a $5.1 million, 40,000-square-foot training center that allows it to produce more certified Airframe & Powerplant mechanics for AAR and the region’s aerospace and aviation cluster,’” said Mitchell. “A skilled, community college-trained workforce, not term limits, is what job creators are clamoring for.”
State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) warns that Illinois’ higher education is “in danger of extinction,” pointing to an “exodus” of both professors and a net emigration of 12,700 students in 2014, a 70 percent increase over the last 10 years.
“Higher education in Illinois is in danger of extinction,” Guzzardi said. “Because of the state budget crisis, we’re seeing an exodus of both students and of respected professors. Meanwhile, high tuition is crushing families with debt or keeping them out of higher education altogether.”
“Our ‘B’ or Better’ legislation will lift the burden of debt from the shoulders of the next generation of students,” Guzzardi said. “The prospect of free tuition will draw families and businesses to come to Illinois and students to attend our excellent universities.”
The legislation now moves to the House floor.