U of I receives good credit rating; Illinois a leader in vocational ed

Moody’s grades U of I credit among the best in Illinois
As the state continues to grapple with low credit ratings, there was some good news for one state institution. In its September report on the University of Illinois’ revenue stream, Moody’s Investors Services granted the school a sharply higher grade than many of Illinois’ public universities. The credit rating agency took note of recent state budget cuts to the university, but commended the three-campus institution for its underlying liquidity and diverse revenue streams. The university is less dependent on state tax funding because of these cash flows.

Moody’s also took note of the U of I’s success in attracting full-tuition-paying international students. They applauded the university for enrolling “the most international students of any university in the U.S.,” but made mention of the threat to its three campuses should future supplies of student visas be restricted by the federal government. Moody’s included a warning that the school continues to be tied to the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), which, like most of the state’s pension systems, remains underfunded.

Illinois vocational education program gets some acclaim
The Illinois Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT), which is a consortium of educators and high-tech manufacturers striving to improve the skills of those seeking to start careers in the manufacturing sector, received some praise recently for its efforts. The alliance includes teachers and administrators from Illinois’ high schools and community colleges. ICATT was cited in the Wall Street Journal for its efforts toward putting together standardized apprenticeship training programs.

Advanced technical training specialists in Illinois say they are preparing students for the highly automated production lines and other ongoing changes that are expected in U.S. manufacturing in the future. In some cases, workers will possess credentials equal to those of engineer’s aides.  Each student gets training in apprenticeship skill sets as well as a standardized post-secondary education meant to boost their future employability. When the student completes their training they will have an associates’ degree as well as a certification in their apprenticeship skill set. The outcome of similar programs overseas, in Germany for example, suggests that new graduates with production-engineer training certificates will have an advantage when entering the job market.

More concussions diagnosed among Illinois teenagers
The diagnosis count for concussions among teenagers in Illinois went up 83% between 2010 and 2015. The group consists of children and young adults who are members of households insured by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, Illinois’ largest health care insurer. The numbers were compiled from diagnoses reached by health care professionals which were used as a basis for follow-up treatments of their patients, and submitted to Blue Cross.

It is hard to determine to what extent concussions are growing in Illinois, partly because health care providers have worked so hard in the last few years to better detect concussions when a patient is being diagnosed. In the past, particularly on a sports field, a young person might have been urged to sit down until feeling better, instead of being diagnosed and treated by trained medical personnel.

The General Assembly has taken steps in recent years to treat concussions, especially in high school sports. The Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, which was passed last year, produced a set of new concussion guidelines from the Illinois High School Association. One important guideline requires that coaches and officials complete both initial training and continuing education in diagnosis of concussions and certain other medical conditions. Other guidelines set benchmarks for a student, his or her family and caregivers, and athletic trainers to follow before returning a person diagnosed with a concussion to future sports activity.

State collects $785 million from video gaming
In first four years of video gaming in Illinois, the state brought in $785 million in revenue from the machines. With a steady increase in licenses, the state went from 60 machines in September 2012 to about 24,000 gaming machines available today. The Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association study used monthly reports from the Illinois Gaming Board, which oversees the machines and collects the taxes. Taxes collected by the state from video gaming are deposited in the Capital Projects Fund; while taxes for local governments are disbursed by the Gaming Board to each local government.

Under the Video Gaming Act, revenue from the video gaming machines may not be used for state operating expenses. Instead it is used to repay interest and principal on bonds sold for rebuilding Illinois infrastructure. Local tax revenues from video gaming can be used in many ways by the communities in which the revenue is collected. State law also allows communities to opt out of video gaming; and several Illinois counties and municipalities, including Chicago, have chosen to opt out. Nearly 5,600 locations in Illinois have operating game machines. Many, but not all, are small businesses. Data from the Gaming Board indicates that the industry is continuing to grow as a part of the overall Illinois economy.

Did You Know?
The architect who designed Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial was born in Watseka, Illinois, in 1866. Henry Bacon studied architecture at the University of Illinois before starting his career. Bacon’s works also included Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and numerous buildings and monuments up and down the east coast.