President Thomas, BOT Chair Early Participate in Higher Education Rally
February 8, 2017
MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Today (Feb. 8), Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas spoke before the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education Rally in the Capitol Rotunda in Springfield. The coalition hosted the event to advocate for support for higher education. President Thomas was among several invited to speak.
"You may ask me today, why is higher education important? Well, there is a direct correlation between level of education attained, employment opportunities, and earning potential," Thomas told the crowd. "Clearly, higher education is a driver of personal and economic prosperity; the more education one receives, the more likely one will have a satisfying career and earn higher wages. So students: keep working hard and complete your studies."
Thomas added that in return for investing in higher education, the state receives a skilled workforce that helps attract and retain businesses in our state.
"Higher education also raises the collective educational level of its citizens. This, in turn, improves the general welfare of the State of Illinois. Today's graduate of higher education translates into tomorrow's tax-paying citizens," he stressed.
Thomas also reiterated that college and university presidents are leading the state's institutions of higher education through unprecedented and uncharted times.
"The lack of a full FY16 and FY17 appropriation continues to have devastating impacts on our students, our employees, and the entire State of Illinois," Thomas said. "We are on the verge of a complete collapse of the Illinois higher education system that is sending our intellectual capital out of the state.
"The Illinois Board of Higher Education released numbers that show that, in 2015, 45 percent of Illinois high school seniors who attended a four-year institution went out of state for their education," he added. "This is a very sad state of affairs."
He also noted that the public perception of the lack of support for higher education in Illinois is having an impact on enrollment.
"We acknowledge the challenges faced by legislators in attempting to solve the State of Illinois financial struggles," he said. "We stand ready for shared sacrifice, but the sacrifice must be shared ... we respectfully ask to be funded so that we can continue our mission of educating the state's greatest asset, its citizens.
"We do not have to make higher education great again. Despite reduced state funding and other impediments, we have remained great," Thomas concluded. "I proclaim if we stay strong and together, we will rise up to higher heights. We are resilient. We are relentless. We are the future of Illinois."
Thomas' full Feb. 8 rally speech can be found at wiu.edu/news/lecture_archive/rally-for-higher-education.php.