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CHICAGO — For years, Illinois colleges and universities have tried to find new ways to attract more high school graduates from within the state, while young people increasingly are choosing to pursue their degrees elsewhere.

New data show the problem is only getting worse.

That's up from 46.6 percent in 2016 and about 45 percent in 2015.

That figure has steadily climbed over the past two decades, according to state data. As recently as 2002, only 29.3 percent of Illinois high school graduates went to out-of-state, four-year colleges.

"This is not good news," Nyle Robinson, interim executive director of the state board, said in a statement Tuesday.

"The outmigration trend continues to increase, and that means we're not only losing students to out-of-state colleges and universities, we're likely losing them to other states for good. We want to educate our state's students and see them flourish in jobs here in the Land of Lincoln."

The figures are not unexpected. Enrollment at most Illinois public universities has dropped significantly since 2015, declines that largely accelerated during the state budget impasse.

For years, Illinois schools have lost ground to institutions elsewhere in the Midwest that have offered competitive scholarships or discounted tuition packages.

Indeed, state data show about two-thirds of Illinoisans choosing four-year colleges land in Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota.

University of Alabama, for instance, has invested heavily in scholarship packages for high-achieving students out of state. The number of Illinoisans enrolled in Tuscaloosa has increased more than tenfold in the past decade.

States including Utah, Georgia, Nebraska, California and Mississippi have recorded double-digit percent increases in the amount of Illinois public high school graduates enrolling in their schools since 2015.

In the past year, state higher education officials have worked to bolster their efforts to lure Illinoisans.

Last August, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill launching the Aim High program, giving $25 million in state money to the 12 public universities to fund merit-based scholarships.

Bolstered by those dollars, several schools announced new financial aid programs designed to attract academically stellar local students.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed boosting funding for that program by $10 million next year.

Additionally, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has invested more heavily in need-based financial aid.

Last fall, the flagship school unveiled Illinois Commitment, a program to cover tuition and fees for admitted students whose family income is less than the state median.

The university is spending $4 million in each of the next four years on the program, officials said at the time.

It remains to be seen how effectively those programs will draw Illinoisans to local schools. The state's analysis relies upon enrollment figures from 2017, just a few weeks after the state's budget impasse ended.

Meanwhile, citing these data and recent trends, higher education leaders have spent recent months lobbying the state legislature to increase funding for the state's colleges and universities. The state board supported Pritzker's budget proposal, which includes sizable increases in general operational funding, Aim High and Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students.

"Our colleges and universities, the IBHE staff and families across the state understand that it's time to re-invest in higher education," Robinson said. "In order for colleges and universities to hold the line on tuition -- which many have done over the years -- state funding needs to be increased."

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