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Professor's testimony touts benefits of college affordability and higher education

by the College of Education / Jun 17, 2015

Jennifer Delaney testifies June 16, 2015

“The higher education investment decision that is made by this body is not just important for Illinois, but also for the nation.”

Higher education has become more important as a path toward upward mobility, an increasingly crucial conduit to a better life for the middle class in a changed world.

That’s according to the testimony of Jennifer Delaney, an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, who spoke about college affordability at the Illinois State Senate committee of the whole session on June 16.

Delaney’s testimony comes at a time when Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing severe budgetary cuts in Illinois for the fiscal year 2016. He has proposed slashing public university spending by approximately $400 million, with the University of Illinois bearing the largest cut in general state funds at $209 million.       

During her 30-minute testimony, Delaney related her research on the benefits of higher education to the state and to individuals, as well as the perils of cutting state funding for higher education. 

"Quite simply, there is no other investment that the state can make that will yield the returns of investing in education at all levels. Unlike other state budget categories, spending on higher education is an investment that will yield returns in future years," Delaney said. "Investment in higher education results in increased sales and income tax revenues for the state. It also means less spending in other state budget categories such as health care and corrections."

Delaney cited two reports that highlighted both the economic importance of a college-educated workforce in the U.S. and stagnated earnings among those without postsecondary training, which translates to a growing inequality in incomes. According to Delaney’s testimony, Illinois is the fifth largest provider of need-based grant aid in the nation through the Monetary Awards Program and provides approximately 5.3 percent of the total national investment in need-based undergraduate grant aid by states.

“Neither the state nor the country as a whole can afford to lose the opportunities that these funds provide for individuals to attend college,” said Delaney.

Citing research by Walter McMahon, an emeritus professor of economics and education at Illinois, Delaney pointed out that higher education benefits to individuals and society extend beyond the labor market. Research has shown, for instance, that people with college experience have better health, higher personal savings, longer life expectancy, children who do better in school, and numerous other positive outcomes that benefit the nation.

“The higher education investment decision that is made by this body is not just important for Illinois, but also for the nation,” Delaney said. 

Along with Delaney, others who testified about the importance of state funding for higher education were James L. Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; Eric Zarnikow, executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission; Mitch Dickey, student body president of the University of Illinois; Phillip Hale, vice president of governmental affairs at Loyola University Chicago; Robert Anderson, director of financial aid at Western Illinois University; Janet Ingargiola, director of financial aid at Danville Area Community College; Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board; and Curt Oldfield, president of Spoon River Community College.

Read Delaney’s full testimony and view an article on the June 16 Senate hearing by The News-Gazette.