Educate the state

By Ryan Harding

The University has recently stepped up its efforts to increase enrollment of in-state students. These efforts, so far, have been noticeably successful, caused in part by increasing financial aid to low-income individuals and more aggressive recruitment strategies.

However, a possible side effect of this strategy has been a slight decrease in average ACT scores for in-state freshman; from 28.86 last fall to 28.28 for the current year. Administration has expressed interest in continuing the process of admitting more in-state students, even if these scores continue to decrease slightly.

Although we must be wary of lowering our academic standards, the policy of the administration is absolutely correct; we need more Illinois students at this school.

It is important to realize that these efforts will merely regain lost ground for in-state students. In part because of budget cuts and in-state students attending more cost effective universities, the percentage of in-state students has declined substantially while the percentage of foreign and out of state students has increased dramatically.

For example, from 2006 to 2015, the percentage of in-state students at the university has declined from 88.2 percent to 72.6 percent. Further, the increase in foreign students is unprecedented; increasing from 4.9 percent to 14.9 percent over this same period.

In fact, for 2014, the University was ranked second in the number of foreign students in attendance at an American university, beaten only by the University of Southern California.

The function of a state university must be, first and foremost, to educate the citizens of the state. This is in part because the taxpayers of Illinois pay 11.9 percent of the $5.64 billion budget of the University of Illinois system. This expenditure of taxpayer resources, even though such support has declined over the years, creates a moral obligation to serve the children of Illinois taxpayers.

Further, land grant universities were established to teach members of the working class a practical education in the industrial arts. Since land grant universities were established in each state with the support of the federal government, it raises the inference that land grant universities, such as our school, were created with the purpose to serve the residents of their own state. Thus, by trying to increase the number of Illinois students at the University, administration is taking the necessary steps to serve their core function of educating in-state residents.

However, two predictable criticisms of this Illinois first philosophy would be that it would be nationalistic and would result in less diversity at our university. These criticisms can be addressed.

In regards to nationalism, admission at a university is not a zero sum game; it is possible to both increase in-state students and foreign students at the same time. This was the case in 2015, 2013, 2011 and other years. Moreover, even if foreign enrollment at the University decreased, this university would still have one of the largest enrollments of foreign students nationwide. Such a status, one would assume, can hardly be described as nationalistic.

Lastly, it would be hard pressed to even describe a publicly funded university trying to educate more of its residents to be nationalistic. As stated earlier, a state university has a special duty to educate the citizens of the state. In a more cynical view, a state university must do so unless it wishes to attract the ire of the state legislature.

As to diversity, increasing enrollment of in-state students could actually increase diversity. This is because Illinois, unlike some Midwestern states, is racially diverse. For example, blacks and Hispanics, respectively, constitute 15.1 percent and 12.3 percent of the state of Illinois.

Yet, at the University of Illinois, these groups only constitute 4.9 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, of the university population. Further, the black population at the university has been in decline since 2004. Thus, efforts to increase in-state attendance could also increase in-state minority attendance, which would have the dovetailing effect of increasing diversity.

Therefore, by addressing concerns of nationalism, it is evident that administration has made the proper course of action. The University has a special obligation to the people of Illinois, and it can fulfill that obligation while also increasing diversity. Hence, the actions of administration should be encouraged because, quite simply, we need more Illinois students at the University of Illinois.

Ryan is a University law student.
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