STEM students would get free tuition under Illinois bill
By Greg Hinz Crain's Chicago Business
Facing a Democratic governor and General Assembly, a major Springfield, Illinois business group has decided to go on the offense by pushing an issue with broad bipartisan appeal: filling tens of thousands of well-paying but vacant factory jobs.
In his first major legislative initiative, new Illinois Manufacturing Association President Mark Denzler says his top legislative priority is abill that would waive tuition and other fees (including on-campus housing) at the University of Illinois and other state colleges and universities for students studying science, technology, engineering, or math who agree to teach in a state high school for at least three years after graduation or a state institute of higher education for at least five years.
A related bill would provide a partial tax credit for educational expenses for employers who sponsor apprenticeship programs, many them high-tech manufacturers or companies with complex technologies or logistics.
Denzler says the goal of both of the bills is the same: to better fill numerous middle-class industrial jobs that are or will be vacant soon but for which the pipeline of job applicants has run pretty dry.
“With nearly 300,000 workers set to retire in the next decade, Illinois manufacturers will need to find nearly 20,000 production workers and 3000 engineering workers annually“ if those jobs are to remain in Illinois, Denzler says. And that’s on top of current vacancies.
"If you talk to people in community colleges, they’ll tell you they have plenty of classrooms available. What they lack is qualified staff,” instructors capable of teaching in the so-called STEM disciplines, he adds.
The bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. It is sponsored again this year by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. Denzler say's he’s been discussing the proposal with House leaders and officials in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration and is hopeful of getting them to go along.
School labor unions have not yet signed on to the bill, but the measure comes amid the rising number of Illinois high school graduates who end up attending college out of state, with many never returning. The estimated first-year cost is about $1.5 million, Denzler says, though that figure could multiply quickly in the future if the program works.
“I know we’re going to be playing a lot of defense this year,” Denzler says, referring to the proposed graduated income-tax and an already enacted new law to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. “We wanted to offer some things that have bipartisan appeal.”