State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) wants there to be another public Big Ten school in Illinois.
Connelly and state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) have introducted legislation in Springfield to study the feasibility of making one of the current state universities a Big Ten school.
The measure, Senate Bill 3526, would create a study commission to explore the possibility of establishing an existing Illinois public university as another Big Ten university. The bill passed the Senate Higher Education Committee on March 19 and will be called for a Senate vote soon.
The two lawmakers said the idea developed due to concerns that some suburban students seem to be leaving Illinois to attend other, high-priced Big Ten institutions out of state.
“This is something that has been under the radar but is now getting a much stronger drum beat,” Connelly said. “I’ve got three kids that are college age and we know that there are a lot of kids with 34 ACT scores and high class rank that are rejected by the University of Illinois and wind up going to places like Kansas and Indiana and other states. Michigan has Michigan and Michigan State — two Big Ten public schools — and we thought why not do a feasibility study to see if we could do the same?”
Northwestern in Evanston is also in the Big Ten, but is a private institution.
“There have been discussions with people like the president of the University of Illinois and he’s been very receptive to it,” Connelly said. “We’ve talked about some of the criterion we’d have to look at to expand and have suggested that maybe SIU would be a good spot as it’s near St. Louis and with all the TV contracts it would give them something in the vicinity.”
Connelly said friends of his who have a student currently at Kansas have told him that “someone who is currently in third or fourth grade now might have a chance of seeing a second public Big 10 school.” Connelly admits the reality may be nearly a decade away but insists the effort needs to begin now.
“In addition to the athletes, we also have a lot of top students that are leaving Illinois to go to school elsewhere and they never come back, so there’s a brain drain too,” he said. “We need to keep that talent pool home. We need to do a detailed study about the economics and talk with professionals about how to make this transition. It’s unrealistic to think this will happen overnight, but as a proposition, it’s nice to get things started.”
Murphy said that since Illinois is the fifth largest state in the country, there are a lot of students looking at the state’s lone flagship university in the Big Ten.
“The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has become highly competitive to the point where we are seeing students with excellent grades and test scores get shut out of attending our in-state, public Big Ten school,” Murphy said. “Many end up choosing to look out of state to receive a Big Ten education, costing them and their parents tens of thousands of dollars in higher out-of-state tuition. We should make it easier for these students to stay in Illinois, not look for greener pastures across state lines.”
The commission would be comprised of higher education professionals, one member from each of the four caucuses in the General Assembly, an Illinois resident paying out of state tuition to a Big Ten institution, and a student from Illinois who has left the state to attend another Big Ten institution.
The commission’s report would be due to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2015.