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Bloomington’s private university may have come up with an idea that could benefit all of the state’s public universities.

Illinois Wesleyan University recently announced graduates of McLean County high schools accepted to IWU will receive scholarships of at least $27,000 a year. The goal is for more local students to consider IWU as their college of choice, said President Eric Jensen.

At IWU, that scholarship amount takes a substantial bite out of the tuition “sticker price” of $47,000. Encouraging more McLean County students to attend the university could raise the local enrollment number to 9 percent — from its current 7 percent — of the university’s 1,600 students.

Why not apply the same logic to publicly funded universities in Illinois?

Higher education leaders have been wringing their hands for years over decreased or delayed state funding as well as falling enrollment as Illinois students decide to further their education out of state, where state-funded universities offer a solid education at a cheaper price.

In fact, as cited during the IWU announcement and reported by The Pantagraph, 46 percent of Illinois high school students who attend a four-year college attend out of state.

Consider this:

Tuition fees for in-state students at Illinois’ “directional” public universities (Eastern, Western, Southern, Northern) plus Illinois State, range from $11,453 at EIU to $14,061 at ISU. They’re a bargain compared to some private schools, but still out of reach for a lot of middle-class families.

Why not offer a discount for kids in Coles, McDonough, Jackson, DeKalb and McLean counties if they qualify to attend the state university in their home county?

And, tie that discount with the same sort of idea IWU has: the students will be encouraged to get involved in the community, developing projects that help local governments or agencies.

A statement by Robert Miller, chairman of the Workforce Development Committee of BN Advantage, could be applied to any county in the state: "Investments in the youth of McLean County align well with our strategy to keep our talented future leaders within our region to innovate, lead change and grow businesses," he told the IWU assemblage, "resulting in further economic diversification."

True, the leaders of our state universities have a lot on their plates because of the state's failure to adequately fund its secondary schools and universities. The exodus of Illinois students, particularly those who never return to the Land of Lincoln, will resonate for years to come.

Our university leaders need to consider not only the possibility of consolidating programs on specific campuses (rather than duplicating them), but also the creative thinking that IWU leaders have put forward.

It's time to hit the books.

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