The following is by Doug Ortiz, president and co-founder of the Roosevelt @ DePaul chapter.
Illinois's institutions of higher education are two-thirds of the way into the academic year, but due to the state's ongoing budget stalemate, now in its eighth month, they still haven't received promised funds. This includes scholarships promised to local students through MAP grants and direct funding for state schools. We've now reached the tipping point at which students at nearly every institution, public and private, are being affected.
As a result of the government's failure, state universities, including Illinois's only majority black university, and select four-year schools are seriously close to closing their doors. And that would be bad enough if we as students hadn't already taken out five-figure loans (averaging over $28,000), making a bet on schools here in Illinois to provide us a competitive education. So how is it that last week's State Budget Address contained not a single mention of this higher-ed funding crisis?
As members of the emerging generation that will inherit the repercussions of today's negligent politics, our patience is wearing thin with leaders and policies that don't move us forward. The devastating reality is that communities nationwide are asking the same question as they face their own set of challenges and officials who are increasingly out of touch with their constituents' values and concerns.
That's why students from Northwestern, DePaul, and UIC joined our peers from across the country to participate in the Roosevelt Institute's Next Generation Blueprint for 2016, a manifesto built by 1,000 young people that challenges our decision-makers to take action on our priorities as they seek our votes. In the 2016 elections, the 86 million Americans who comprise the Millennial generation and Generation Z will account for 36 percent of the voting electorate. And a number of the major movements of the last eight years have been led by people under 35, including the Dreamers, Title IX activism, the Movement for Black Lives, and Occupy.
Our elected bodies nationally and here in Illinois are older and whiter than we are. The data shows that less effort is made to reach us as voters, and even when candidates do try to connect, we're only asked for our votes, not our ideas. We're active in our communities but sidelined for the decisions that shape them. All of this creates a vicious cycle of low voter turnout and engagement.
It matters that we're not a part of writing the rules that shape our lives. That's why we're asking our decision-makers to end the vicious cycle of disenchantment and disconnect between government and citizens. Here in Illinois, we're starting with a conversation about higher education between elected officials and students.
We're interested in a conversation about how to equip our education system with the resources, support, and talent it needs to serve every student and potential student, so that investing in a degree in Illinois continues to makes sense. We'll be holding a roundtable discussion at the DePaul Student Center on February 23 to reimagine higher education in our state. Our goal is to bring together students from youth organizations in Illinois to share their stories and their ideas with elected officials who can help make them happen. If Governor Rauner wants our support for his turnaround agenda, he needs to start working for it. And if he's not going to talk about higher education in Illinois, we are.
Doug Ortiz is president and co-founder of the Roosevelt @ DePaul chapter, a junior at DePaul University and a MAP grant recipient.