from the Illinois Board of Higher Education

November 9, 1998

Contact: Ross Hodel, 217/782-2551

Don Sevener, 217/782-3632


SPRINGFIELD, November 9, 1998 – Illinois citizens and opinion leaders voice strong support for colleges and universities and for the goals of the Board of Higher Education Citizens' Agenda master planning initiative, according to surveys conducted for the IBHE by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Citizens see a college degree as a passport for future economic success, and a significant majority approve of spending more on education, the opinion surveys found.

But citizens and opinion leaders agreed that policy-makers must ensure that a college degree remains affordable and that colleges and universities do an even better job of preparing workers for the job market. The surveys also revealed that higher education should forge productive partnerships with elementary and secondary schools and improve training of schoolteachers.

Those are among the conclusions of polls commissioned by the IBHE to gauge public satisfaction with colleges and universities and to solicit guidance from various constituents on goals for higher education.

"Higher education is critical to individual success and to the success of the state," Jerry D. Blakemore, chairman of the Board of Higher Education, said. "These surveys demonstrate that the public and opinion leaders value the work of colleges and universities, and view a college education as vital to an individual's economic well-being and the state's continued prosperity. We need to improve our quality product to further improve the quality of life in our state."

The UIC survey team questioned 654 adults, chosen randomly, and 40 opinion leaders for the first two of four polls. A survey of Illinois employers, conducted by Northern Illinois University, and one of college seniors, undertaken by the U. of I. at Springfield, will be released in coming weeks.

Overall, both the general public and opinion leaders gave higher education high approval ratings - 93% of citizens and 95% of opinion leaders said public and private colleges and universities were doing a good job when "strongly approve" and "approve" answers were combined.

"This is an impressive and valuable show of support," Keith R. Sanders, IBHE executive director, said. "Our fellow citizens and those in positions of influence have resoundingly endorsed higher education, and they have given us helpful advice on the public purposes that higher education should serve." Sanders said the surveys will help the Board of Higher Education refine its goals for the Citizens' Agenda, a policy blueprint to carry colleges and universities into a new century.

Among the key findings of the adult resident and opinion leader surveys were:

The survey team also questioned respondents about the goals of the Citizens' Agenda, the IBHE planning initiative that is exploring such issues as affordability, access to higher education, quality of college studies, productivity of institutions, and the success of minority students. Without exception, the Citizens’ Agenda goals were overwhelmingly embraced by both citizens and opinion leaders.

When considering just those who answered "very important," the citizens' top priorities were:

  1. Improve preparation of teachers, 90%
  2. Improve the quality of knowledge and skills of graduates, 83%
  3. Help elementary and secondary schools do a better job, 82%
  4. Assure that college is affordable, 79%

The opinion leaders' highest rated goals were:

  1. Improve the preparation of teachers and provide higher education services more cost efficiently, both 82.5%
  2. Improve the quality of knowledge and skills of graduates, 80%
  3. Assure that college is affordable, 77.5%
  4. Graduate students who are better prepared for the modern workplace, 75%

While the overall approval rating for higher education was high, the surveys revealed several areas where both the public and opinion leaders found room for improvement. For example, two in five opinion leaders thought higher education did only a fair job of preparing young people to participate well as citizens, improving the state economy, and instilling ethical values in students. Opinion leaders also voiced concern about the quality of undergraduate education. Said one: "I think that at some universities the importance of quality teaching is undervalued" and another: ";I believe we need improvement in our math and sciences for all students."

Affordability of college also raised concerns. A majority of the general public strongly agreed that college students must borrow too much to finance their education, that Illinois should not permit the price of a degree to be a barrier to college, and that the state should give tax breaks to help students pay for college. Views of opinion leaders, while less intense, also supported measures to ensure college is affordable. Neither group, however, favored increasing taxes to make college more affordable.

Asked for alternatives, opinion leaders focused on greater efficiency as the means to lower the cost of college without increasing taxes. Said one leader: "Higher education in Illinois is not very efficient. Many of the programs provided are duplicative from one institution to another." Said another: "I strongly believe that higher education has not begun to seriously cut costs. No new taxes should even be considered until serious cost cutting action have been implemented."

Sanders said the surveys reinforce other signs - including results of the Nov. 3 election - that education has returned to the forefront of public priorities. "We have taken this unprecedented step of asking citizens about our policy initiatives because we want their agenda to be our agenda. These surveys, and those yet to come, will inform our deliberations as we prepare a new budget for fiscal 2000 and create policies that will guide higher education into the next century."