Pritzker Comes Up Short on Campaign Promises to College Students

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Throughout Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker’s campaign last year, he echoed his commitment to college students and young people. The only problem is, that commitment has taken the back seat since he landed in Springfield in January.

Pritzker preached the importance of increasing the affordability of higher education in Illinois, keeping college students in the state and boosting economic opportunity and innovation. These three tenets embody his approach to alleviating issues surrounding higher education, according to his website.

“We can and will chart a new course for higher education in Illinois, one that will move us forward and expand opportunity to all of our state’s families,” his website reads. “It’s time to build a student-centered system that is more affordable, attractive to students nationally and globally, and aligned with the jobs of tomorrow.”

While these sound like great ideas and few people would argue with the importance of those three, the actual act of getting there is a bit more complicated. Pritzker’s focus has been placed on other things, leaving Illinois college students hanging on to empty campaign promises without any gratification.

He’s focused his energy on the legalization of marijuana, which passed the Illinois legislature in June and he swiftly signed that bill into law. He also increased the minimum salary for teachers in the state to $40,000 per year.

We commend Pritzker on his commitment to these issues, and we don’t doubt that positive impacts will be seen both short and long-term, but with a campaign that targeted college students so intensely, we need more than legal weed to be satisfied with our governor.

Each of Pritzker’s three goals includes a “plan” on his website to reach the goal, which should inspire confidence. But nine months into his tenure as governor, the progress is disappointing.

Pritzker pledged to increase funding for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants by 50 percent, meaning $200 million would be added to the fund. MAP grants are given to Illinois residents based on financial need and don’t need to be repaid. Pritzker signed a budget in June where only $50 million was added to this fund. It’s a far cry from his goal of a $200 million increase, directly impacting many students in Illinois — and at Loyola. Even if it’s the first year of his term, increasing the fund by only a quarter of his intention is slow progress toward the goal.

More than 2,300 Loyola students received MAP grants in 2017, The Phoenix reported. Without these grants, those 2,300 students and more throughout the state are faced with the troubling reality of paying for college. Maybe Pritzker simply set his hopes too high for his first year in office. But that means he took the hopes of thousands of college students and set them just as high.

It’s no surprise local Illinois students are drawn to other states when it comes time for college. Illinois has the fifth-highest public university tuition in the country, according to a report by the College Board. In many states, students qualify for in-state tuition after living in that state for a year. When they can get a cheaper public education somewhere else, why wouldn’t they leave? Pritzker sees this as a problem, and so do we. That’s not where we disagree. Again, it’s the execution that raises concern.

His plan, as outlined on his website, glosses over the solid details of his vision, but merely uses sweeping statements and political buzzwords — “modernize,” “increase promotion” — in order to catch attention and create the guise of progress. But what does that look like in practice? We may never know.

As college-aged people, our political voice matters now, but it will matter more in the future. If Pritzker wants to continue to govern, he should prioritize the younger generation as he repeatedly promised during his campaign.

We need a governor who will actively commit to the goals he set during his campaign. It’s not enough to talk the talk, Pritzker needs to prove himself by walking the walk.

There’s still time in his term to turn things around, but at the pace he’s going, Pritzker could lose support from the thousands of college students and young voters who elected him.

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