Illinois needs another Big Ten school, lawmakers say

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SPRINGFIELD — Two GOP lawmakers want another Big Ten university in Illinois because they say tight admission policies at the University of Illinois are driving students out of state.

Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Lisle, and Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, have introduced legislation to study what it would take for Illinois to get one of its current public universities — like Illinois State University or Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville — to become a Big Ten school.

“‘Big Ten,’ to me, means a top state school,” Connelly said. “There’s a lot of pride in that. The Big Ten has a cachet and a record of higher academic and athletic excellence.”

Northwestern University and U. of I. are the only Big Ten schools in the state.

Connelly said only having one public Big Ten school is a problem: When the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus rejects students with ACT scores as high as 32 or 33, those students look out of state to get a similar college experience.

“Indiana, Iowa, … they come swooping in, and they’re taking some of our really talented kids out of the state — and sometimes for good,” Connelly said. “So there’s a talent drain that is there, as well.”

Does Illinois need another Big Ten school?

To gain admission to the Big Ten conference — the University of Maryland and Rutgers University will swell its ranks to 14 schools next year — at least 70 percent of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors would have to agree, said Big Ten spokesman Kerry Kenny, who declined to comment on the Illinois bill.

Meanwhile, Connelly said he could see SIU or ISU becoming the next Big Ten school, once their academics and athletics advance a bit with the help of the state.

He said he wasn’t sure how much the Big Ten endeavor would cost, but that’s something a commission — composed of higher education professionals, legislators, and in-state and out-of-state students at Big Ten schools — would handle and report on in January if the bill passes.

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