I’m part of the problem if I don’t talk about the repercussions.

Too many of our students are leaving Illinois for higher education, and we have to talk about how to get them to stay.

In 2017, almost half of college-bound public high school graduates who enrolled in a four-year institution left Illinois, according to data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

But in 2002, that number was only 29.3%, the IBHE reports.

It’s now time to beg our students — stay! Stay here in Illinois to complete your post-secondary education. Because them staying here does a lot of good for Illinois.

Annual expenditures from Illinois colleges and universities totaled $10 billion and accounted for 116,000 full-time jobs, according to an IBHE report released in 2000. And “the increase in U.S. productivity generated by one year’s activity by Illinois’ colleges and universities exceeds $24 billion,” the report said.

I’ve had conversations with people who are not so concerned about students leaving. These adults try to reassure me that these students will probably come back.

But I am less than optimistic these students who leave will want to return and create a life not only in the Illinois Valley but Illinois in general.

The students who leave for college outside Illinois left with the underlying message that for whatever reason, Illinois failed them. Maybe it was because colleges here are too expensive or colleges here don’t offer the programs they want, but whatever the reason, ultimately Illinois did fail them.

And why would they want to come to a failed state?

We are all shooting ourselves in the foot if we aren’t spending time and resources to explain why it’s important our students stay here for college as well as take the time to show them good programs and scholarships here that are worth pursuing.

Think about it — if all these students are leaving and not coming back, who will be here to buy goods and start businesses? Who will be here to start new families and fill our elementary and high schools with children? No one will be left.

I mean, don’t we want educated people to live here, provide their expertise and make and spend money where we live? But besides my parents (who encouraged me to stay in Illinois), I think I can only remember less than a handful of adults who talked about the benefits of remaining in the state for college.

I hope that teachers, counselors, principals and superintendents (as well as all other members of society) see the importance in talking to kids about what it means if they leave and what it means to stay in Illinois for college.

Because school employees do serve students and should look out for students’ best interest, but their job (like all our jobs) is also to serve the taxpayer.

Ali Braboy can be reached at (815) 220-6931 and countyreporter@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_PutnamCo.

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