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Illinois' Rural Liberal Arts Colleges Cutting Tuition, Shutting Down

Several rural liberal arts colleges in Illinois are cutting programs, slashing tuition, and closing down in the midst of enrollment declines and shrinking budgets, according to a recent story by Crain's Chicago Business.

Some of the colleges, such Benedictine University at Springfield and MacMurray College in Jacksonville have seen enrollment drop to about 500 students, which has forced the schools to phase out specific majors or entire programs. The Springfield campus of Benedictine University is in the process of ending its undergraduate programs and setting up a process for students to transfer to other campuses, while MacMurray College is shuttering English, history, and philosophy majors, as well as its music minor.

Research shows that rural students are less likely than their urban peers to enroll in college, especially in a four-year or private school, which can be an additional challenge for private, rural liberal arts colleges that are attempting to recruit local students. The problem isn't exclusive to these schools, however. Urban colleges, like the University of Illinois, have also seen sharp declines in rural students in recent years, possibly due to challenges involved in transitioning to a large university in a big town. Others may opt for a less expensive community college closer to home, especially if they are undecided on a career.

Some schools, like North Carolina State University in Raleigh, have tried to combat this by expanding college transition programs to rural high school students to help them prepare for college. In Illinois, MacMurray College is ramping up its agriculture and business programs and will be focusing more on adult education. "We realized in order to be sustainable, you have to be novel," MacMurray President Colleen Hester said in the article. Several schools, including MacMurray, Eureka College and Monmouth college, have also cut tuition by up to 60 percent and are upgrading facilities in an attempt remain attractive.

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