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OUR VIEW: Illinois puts best foot forward

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Tim Killeen

University of Illinois President Tim Killeen.

Administrators with the University of Illinois system have been touring the state this week. They emphasized their desire for communication and cooperation with the state's universities.

It's a move we welcome.

The contingent met with legislators, business leaders and representatives of the universities. University of Illinois System President Timothy Killeen said the tour was long overdue. Even considering COVID restrictions of the last 20-plus months, Killeen and other officials from the university have been quieter than we (and apparently they) would have liked.

The tour included stops in Peoria, Bloomington, Rockford, Carbondale, the Quad Cities and Chicago. That covers most of the state, although DeKalb and Charleston may be anxiously awaiting their turn.

Administrators talked about stopping the exodus of high school graduates from Illinois and a desire to work as a coalition to keep students in-state. There are certainly always going to be Illinois high school graduates who want to go to school elsewhere, either to get away or to see other parts of the country.

But if the universities can keep more students closer to home, that bodes well for both the institutions and for businesses in the state requiring those kinds of minds.

A keen advantage for the schools is that they're accessible and affordable. Illinois officials said 52% of the school's graduates leave with no debt, and the average debt for those who have it is $24,000.

Killeen said boosting the image of the state could make a significant difference for the schools. And he noted that the University of Illinois is not in "competition" with the state's other schools. “Our competition is Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State," he said.

Illinois officials realize some of the native advantages they have in the middle of the county. In addition to the work ethic of Midwesterners, the state has the advantage of more available bandwidth than either coast.

While in Bloomington, the cadre from Champaign went to Rivian. It was university of Illinois graduate Martin Eberhard who arguably “invented” the electric car as we know it. While Elon Musk might be the current “face” of Tesla, it was birthed from the brain of a U of I grad. So it’s appropriate that U of I is extremely interested in being a supply chain of labor and brain power for Rivian.

Eberhard has been named the “battery guru” of the electric automobile industry. The Illinois graduate is the co-founder and former CEO of Tesla Motors, the luxury electric automobile company based in San Carlos, California.

Even the most logical and solicitous ideas need constant follow-through. Talking the game is good and welcome. Following through is equally important.

But at least Killeen and the University of Illinois have put a foot forward.


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