PCC Executive Director Lisa Castillo Richmond testified before the Illinois House Higher Education Committee on Thursday, May 9, to educate lawmakers about the importance of passing the Commission on Equitable Public University Funding’s recommendations.

Read her full testimony below:

Good morning, esteemed Chairperson Ford and Chairperson Stuart; Vice Chairperson Hernandez and Vice Chairperson Nichols; Minority Spokesperson Severin and Spokesperson Swanson and distinguished members of both the Higher Education and Higher Education Appropriation committees. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding the critical matter of the proposed recommendations from the Illinois Commission on Equitable Public University Funding.

Executive Director Lisa Castillo Richmond testified before the House Higher Education Committee on May 9 about equitable public university funding.

My name is Lisa Castillo Richmond, and I have the great privilege to serve as the Executive Director of the Partnership for College Completion. For the past seven years, our organization has been steadfast in its commitment to rectifying systemic inequities within higher education, with a focus on narrowing the access, persistence, and completion disparities for historically marginalized groups and increasing college completion overall. These student groups include but are not limited to Black, Latinx, low-income, rural, and first-generation students.

I myself am a proud first-generation college student who grew up in Loves Park, Ill., the daughter of an electrician and small business owners who are still working in the Rockford area today.

My testimony today underscores the proposed funding formula’s transformative potential. Our collective responsibility as advocates and lawmakers is to reverse the pernicious trends that have resulted in Illinois students being burdened with terrible options – either not being able to afford their college dreams or incurring significant debt in the process. This is not sustainable nor is it acceptable.

If you look at the data, college very clearly remains important and worthwhile – leading to better economic and life outcomes across a number of factors.

  • Of jobs added since the last recession, 95% have required college credentials
  • Economists project that there will not be enough well-paying jobs that don’t require college degrees. So for the majority of Illinois residents, the path to social mobility or to staying in the middle class goes through college.
  • By 2031, 70% of Illinois jobs will require a postsecondary credential and more than half of new jobs will require a bachelor’s degree.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix funding for Illinois’ public universities. State appropriations have been cut 46% since 2000 (even considering critical and laudable recent increases), shifting costs to students and families, particularly pricing out those who can least afford it. Students in this state routinely pay more than 40%, 50%, or even 60% of their annual household income to attend our public universities – with students of color paying the highest percentage of their household income. Unsurprisingly, that has led to the largest enrollment declines of any state in the country, concentrated at the 4-year universities that are enrolling more students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, with enrollment decreasing by 15,000 students between 2012 and 2022. 

With less revenue coming in, universities have been limited in how they can serve students who need more resources to enroll and complete. We then see access and graduation rates stratified by income, race, and rurality. This has been exacerbated by how we’ve doled out our limited state appropriations, which have been done through a political process, without bringing data to bear on the needs of students or institutions.

Less and inequitably distributed funding from the state meant that universities had to collect more revenue from their students, and tuition and fees rose for years before leveling off around 2019. Around that time Illinois students from low-income backgrounds paid among the highest costs in the country to go to our public universities – a student would pay twice as much to attend an Illinois university than they would at a similar university in a neighboring state. Though universities have worked hard to not raise prices over the last five years, with help from some additional appropriations from the state, an infusion of support is still needed to make universities affordable and ensure they can serve their students well.

The SB 815 Commission on Equitable Public University Funding has worked on this problem for years. That has now culminated in recommendations, based on data and research, that would bring us from distributing funding through a political process to a formula-based approach that would fund universities based on their unique students and mission, and then hold them accountable for doing so, in ways that we’ve never seen in Illinois or event nationally.

This model would ramp up state investment over 10-15 years to an additional $1.4 billion, bringing annual university appropriations back to around where they were in the early 2000s. This new approach would drive dollars based on student need, with 62% of that funding specifically given to support increasing equity in access and completion.

And while on the topic of equity, I’d like to clarify what this funding formula does in terms of racial equity. Adequate and equitable funding is essential in closing the access and completion disparities that exist in our state. While this model takes first-of-its-kind approaches to many aspects of higher education funding, how it seeks to apportion resources to support underrepresented minority students is not one of those. In fact, there are currently 16 states that use success metrics for students of color in their funding formulas and 6 that use enrollment of students of color; that’s not including Illinois’ own 2012 formula that is still on the books, which is also race-conscious.

Illinois’ new model is targeted in its use of race as one of many factors that the state acknowledges and significant evidence shows is associated with differential access and completion rates. These factors are created from real data on the disparities we are working to eliminate as part of our state’s A Thriving Illinois plan, and they will be reevaluated and recalibrated annually. It isn’t a preference for one group or another, it’s a reflection that some universities face higher costs in delivering adequate support, and allocating more resources to help universities enrolling greater percentages of these students, which they can use to serve all their students, does not harm any group.

This issue should not be divisive – we’re talking about the future prosperity of our state, and all of us inside and outside of this room want all Illinois students and universities to be the envy of the nation. We estimate that by the time the formula is fully funded, the combination of increased enrollment and improved graduation rates will have resulted in tens of thousands more Illinoisans earning degrees, and they will cumulatively pay billions more in lifetime state taxes. For each of those additional graduates, a degree is also life-changing; it’s worth $1.2 million in lifetime income, not to mention its impact on generational wealth, improving health outcomes, and many other societal benefits. These degrees are more important than ever for the state’s economy. 

This is true in communities throughout the state, as graduates contribute hundreds of thousands more to their local economies. Not only are bachelor’s degrees increasingly in demand in rural communities, but having better-educated residents can help stave off population declines in these areas. This formula will not just ensure that the state’s economy grows, but that it does so equitably. We owe it to our students, to ourselves, and the future residents of this state to come together and make this proposal a reality.