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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Local Pulse – Beyond high school graduation


Over the last few weeks, seniors from high schools across the state completed their coursework and accepted their diplomas at graduation ceremonies. For most districts, this year’s ceremonies were a return to normal after the last few years, when COVID-19 restrictions limited families’ ability to gather and fully celebrate their seniors’ accomplishments.

Some graduates are headed straight into the workforce, while others are headed toward trade schools or certificate programs that hone specific skillsets. Still others are entering military service, where they will learn valuable skills while protecting our country and the freedoms we hold dear.

Many others, including hundreds from Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, Metea Valley , Naperville North and the area’s private high schools, are headed to community college or a four-year college or university.

I wish this year’s graduating seniors the very best, and nothing but success as they enter the next exciting stage of their lives.

As my wife and I watched with pride as our son received his diploma at Naperville Central’s graduation a few weeks ago, we were struck by conversations we had with a number of other parents, and the undeniable truth they shared: an alarming number of college-bound seniors are leaving Illinois to attend college in a different state.

This out-migration of Illinois’ young adults is not a new phenomenon, and across the board the number one factor for choosing higher education in another state is that college has simply become unaffordable for most Illinois families. While other states actively recruit Illinois students and dangle lucrative financial incentives in front of them, the dream of a college education in Illinois remains out of reach for a growing number of our state’s families.

While other states promise less-expensive degree programs, Illinois’s solution to the college out-migration is to pump millions into brick-and-mortar improvements to campus buildings, and to increase the number of in-state grants available to lower income students. What does this do to keep our best and brightest across all economic backgrounds in the State of Illinois for college? Absolutely nothing.

The long-term effect of this collegiate out-migration is that Illinois’ best and brightest will go on to accomplish great things…. in other states. As they make connections in their field during collegiate studies, they will begin building a future outside of the Land of Lincoln. If Illinois wants to get serious about retaining our college-bound seniors, they must address the bottom-line cost factors once and for all.

Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli is a lifelong Naperville Resident and former Representative in the Illinois House of Representatives and Naperville City Councilman.