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Simon’s college initiatives merit a serious look

More must be done to help affordability

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is leading an initiative to make college more affordable.

It’s an admirable effort, and the good news is that colleges and universities claim they are already doing many of the things Simon labeled as “game-changing reforms” and “innovative practices in Illinois higher education.”

Simon held a series of College Affordability Summits last fall at the state’s 12 public universities, including Illinois State University in Normal and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

She recently issued a “white paper” that included the following ideas:

n Dual degree programs in which students can simultaneously enroll in a community college and a university. The student would begin at the community college, but when transferring to the university, the tuition would be the same as if the student had started at the university.

n Reverse transfer programs in which students can transfer from a university to a community college.

n Intensive financial and academic advisement for at-risk students.

n Ongoing financial advisement beyond the freshman year so students graduate with less debt.

n Textbook rental programs.

n Partnering to create paid internships.

Simon praised Illinois State University for the work its Career Center does in seeking paid internships for students.

Many colleges said they are already taking steps on many of those items, although some said the actions happen “informally.” It’s not clear what “informally” means, but we’d urge colleges and universities to be as upfront as possible about ways that students and parents can save money.

An idea that should be added to the list is dual-enrollment classes while a student is in high school. Students in dual-enrollment classes earn both high school and college credits, and also get a taste of college academic requirements. Students can earn a semester, or more, of college credit during their junior and senior years of high school.

Of course, the universities, colleges, and Simon all know that some of the cause of rising tuition is the failure of the state to consistently fund higher education and to pay its bills on time.

Some colleges also need to shed the idea that students and parents have unending resources to pay for higher education.

Even at the ever-rising prices of higher education, a college degree is a remarkable investment. But public colleges and universities, along with the state, need to do all they can to make higher education as affordable as possible.

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