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Illinois officials want to offer student data to help universities recruit high schoolers

Illinois education officials may propose creating more scholarships or making more student data available to public universities, in an effort to stanch the flow of freshman choosing to attend college outside the state.

The ideas cropped up this week at a meeting of the College and Career Interest Task Force, which was tasked by the state in 2018 with creating recommendations on how to share with Illinois’ public universities data about high school students’ college interests.

The number of students that enroll at public universities has fallen by 5 percent from 2015, as students leave for out-of-state or private schools. Illinois’ two-year budget impasse that forced the state to freeze its need-based financial aid known as Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants also hurt public-school enrollment. Private schools sometimes offer higher scholarships or more financial aid than their public counterparts to lure prospective students.

The idea, advocates say, is that finding new ways to get public universities access to student data could help them figure out how to make in-state universities more appealing.

The task force, which has been meeting since last fall, includes representatives of public universities, state-led higher education communities and local school boards, as well as some independent education advocates.

But one member has found the three meetings so far both frustrating and doing little to address the causes of the decline in enrollment.

“The ultimate task of the group is to address the root causes of a decline in student enrollment in public universities in Illinois,” said Cassie Creswell, a board member of Raise Your Hand Action and a member of the task force. “We seem to be talking around the problem.”

Here are three ideas that came out of the task force’s meeting this week, one of its last before it has to submit recommendations to the Illinois legislature by Jan. 30:

Re-evaluate the data-sharing agreement for a statewide student survey

Illinois has a contract with the College Board to administer several standardized tests, including the SAT and PSAT, to students across the state. Students who take the SAT also fill in a questionnaire about attitudes toward college, which universities in Illinois purchase from the College Board.

The task force is concerned about public higher ed institutions having to purchase data that the College Board collected under a contract with the state. And some schools say private universities are able to purchase the data sooner for a higher cost, and use it for targeting students.

But Creswell maintained that it is illegal for the College Board to sell data altogether. “The student online privacy protection act says they can’t sell data that has been collected for school services,” she said, noting that a survey administered during the school day as part of the state test should fall within that purview.

Create an independent survey asking students about college interests

One recommendation discussed in the committee was for the state to run its own survey asking students more specifically about college interests and then sharing results with universities.

Representatives of public universities on the task force said that private schools often have more money to spend on buying the survey, and obtaining it earlier, which gives them an edge in recruitment.

Create a student scholarship to encourage young people to attend public universities in the state

Seniors who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class are eligible to receive the Illinois State Scholarship. The scholarship is run by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, a public body, and is awarded based on both students’ entrance exam scores and their high school grades. But the honor comes with no monetary award.

Instead, recipients get a letter of congratulations, a certificate and public recognition. But one idea floated in the commission meeting was to attach a $500 honorarium to the scholarship to help with tuition at in-state public universities.

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