Do Illinois schools make the grade? How do we make sure that young adults in Illinois are getting the education they need to prepare them for a successful life?

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Education in Illinois Today

With state young adult unemployment rates at 18.5%, a good education is more necessary than ever to give Millennial Illinoisans a leg up and to  reduce state-wide inequality.  How do we make sure that young adults in Illinois are getting the education they need to prepare them for a successful life, without suffering from crippling debt?

Who Regulates Education in Illinois? 

The Illinois government exercises a lot of control over education of children and young adults across the state.  The Illinois General Assembly makes laws that affect many aspects of education including testing requirements and the costs of education.  The Illinois State Board of Education consists of nine members who are appointed by the Governor with approval from the Senate.  The Board sets educational policies and guidelines for schools that educate students from preschool through Grade 12.   The Illinois State Board of Higher Education is responsible for coordinating with Illinois’ system of colleges and universities and helping to set top priorities in making higher education accessible and affordable.  

Public education serves some Illinois students much better than others

Some K-12 schools in Illinois provide much more funding to individual students than others.  Public K-12 schools in Illinois are funded through a mix of local revenue, state revenue, and funding from the U.S. government.    

Illinois ranks dead last in the nation in the amount of school funding provided by state revenues.   The Illinois state budget provided only 28.4 percent of education spending across the state on K-12 education, while local tax revenues made up 59.2 percent.  

Some regions in Illinois are able to raise more money to put toward education than others, leading to large differences in school funding in different areas.  Illinois has the widest disparity in public school funding in the country, with per pupil spending ranges from a high of almost $23,700 to a low of less than $4,500.  School Funding Fairness gives Illinois an F in funding distribution.  This often leads to major cutbacks at schools, including increasing class sizes, reducing staff, using outdated textbooks, and cutting back on art and music.

Funding can be allocated to schools in a number of ways.  One option is to provide students with funding on a per-pupil basis.  Per-pupil funding means that each student is given an equal amount of funding by the state.  Currently Illinois allocates a fixed foundation level of funding that each pupil in the state is entitled to receive.  An alternative method of distributing funding is to focus on making sure all students have access to similar resources – some schools already have clean, functional buildings and access to textbooks, while other schools do not.  Making sure schools have access to similar resources would mean proving more funding to schools that are currently under-resourced.  

How can we make sure that all students in Illinois receive a quality education?


Illinois State Board of Education Fact Sheet

General State Aid

Illinois' School Funding Formula and General State Aid

Students are struggling to graduate from college 

IIllinois students who complete high school face a number of obstacles that make higher education challenging.  Higher education is often extremely expensive, and many students feel unprepared for the challenges of college coursework.   

In Illinois, 41% of adults ages 25-64 hold at least a two-year degree.  Only one in five community college students across the state will graduate with an associate’s degree in three years. In Chicago, just 6.9% of Chicago Public School students will go on to get a bachelor’s degree by age 26.

Graduation rates vary widely along racial and socioeconomic lines.  In Illinois, 36% of black students and 44% of Hispanic students attending four-year colleges and universities graduate within six years, compared with 66% of white students.

Although dropout rates are often tied to costs of higher education, part of the problem is that many students feel underprepared for their college classes.  In fact, only a quarter of Illinois high school seniors met national college readiness standards in all four ACT-tested subjects: English, math, reading, and science.  In Chicago, of the approximately 20,000 CPS students who graduate each year, roughly 15,000 students are unprepared for college.  

Many schools are launching programs specifically designed at retaining new students.  At the City Colleges in Chicago, the Careers to College program paired individual campuses with specific industries and helped lead to an increase in dropout rates.  Many other schools are implementing programs specifically aimed at engaging first-year students: adding tutoring, academic mentoring, career counseling, writing coaching, and classes specifically focused on first year experience.  


Illinois Student Access Commission – Graduation and Loan Default Rates

A Hypothetical Chicago Public School Class

Lumina Foundation – A Stronger Illinois Through Higher Education – Report Finds Modest Gains in Illinois, America’s College Attainment Rates

Higher Education, Higher Costs

Once Illinois residents leave college, they often face high levels of debt.  Costs of higher education have risen sharply within Illinois in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for students to afford to go to college. 

From 1999 to 2009, median family income in Illinois fell but tuition increased by 100% at public four-year universities and by 38% at public two-year colleges.  Today, in-state tuition at the University of Illinois is between $15,602 and $20,606.  Including room, board, books, and books, this goes up to $30,150 - $35,154 a year.  

State financial support for need-based grants went from $1,036 to $745 per undergraduate full-time student each year from 1999 to 2009.  The Monetary Award Program (MAP) provides individual students with funding to help with higher education access, but is not able to cover all students who qualify.    

Consequently, young adults in Illinois face significant student debt – the average college graduate in Illinois leaves with $28,028 worth of debt.  This can make obtaining financial security after college a true challenge for many young adults.


Illinois Student Assistance Commission – MAP Grant Program

Illinois Student Assistance Commission – College Costs

Illinois Board of Higher Education – Cost Studies

Additional Resources

Illinois State Board of Education

Illinois Board of Higher Education – Education

Article X of the Illinois Constitution