Wednesday, March 23, 2011

U of I to increase tuition by 6.9 percent

By Lauren N. Johnson

Incoming freshmen at the University of Illinois will pay 6.9 percent more for their education after the university's board of trustees voted today to increase tuition, citing potentially stagnant funding levels and the state's overdue payments as the cause.

The increase – for Illinois-resident freshmen only – would mean on average annual tuition of $11,104 at the Urbana-Champaign campus, $9,764 at the Chicago campus and $8,670 at the Springfield campus, based on a per-credit system. The 6.9 percent increase amounts to a total of $22 million in additional tuition revenue for next fall. Last year, trustees raised tuition by 9.5 percent.

Chris Kennedy, chairman of the university's board of trustees, said the main issue surrounding tuition is the state's law guaranteeing a stable four-year tuition rate for each incoming freshman class. He said the board’s decision today would maintain a flat tuition rate, adjusted for inflation.

Kennedy also said it would be a “false choice” for the legislature not to make higher education a priority in the upcoming state budget. “I don’t think that we need to choose between being an excellent, outstanding university and being an accessible university. I think that it’s the burden of the trustees to figure out a way to have one of the best colleges that’s made affordable to everyone in our community,” Kennedy said.

Michael Hogan, president of the University of Illinois, said increased tuition is necessary because state funding for higher education remains stagnant. “I think the state has to ask itself, ‘Is it true that we can’t afford the University of Illinois?’" he said. "The second question would be, ‘Can we afford not to do without it?’ … And if the answer to one is yes and the other is, 'No, we can’t afford it,’ then they have to let us find ways to support ourselves.”

Hogan remarked that if state funding continues to fall short, the university could soon be perceived as merely Illinois-located and heavily state-regulated, rather than as a public state university.

Walter Knorr, vice president, chief financial officer and comptroller for the U of I, said most of the revenue from the tuition increase will go toward education, academic support and infrastructure.

Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a $697 million budget for the university for Fiscal Year 2012. Knorr said the university’s budget is still up in the air, and lawmakers could alter Quinn’s original proposal in May.

“We have two months [more] to go with the legislative process ... for financial aid and appropriations, benefits and pensions. It’s all out there over the next couple of months,” Knorr said.

While Quinn's budget calls for flat funding for higher education in the state, Senate Republicans have said they would support up to $200 million in cuts to higher education through elimination of some programs, a review of university sabbatical policies and limits to tuition waivers.

According to a Senate Republican budget proposal, public universities last year,gave about $400 million in tuition waivers to students, while the universities took in about $1.5 billion in tuition. “When a student attends a public university for free, other students pay more to account for it,” the proposal states. Republican leaders say legislators should first eliminate the scholarship waivers they dole out.

The state still owes the University of Illinois $447 million for the current fiscal year, Knorr said.

During the next few months, other state universities will weigh tuition increases at their campuses, and today’s move by the state’s largest university system to raise rates may play into their decisions. “I think most public universities are in a world of hurt,” Kennedy said. Since the flagship university in the state has taken the first step in raising tuition because of dwindling state funds, that might make it easier for other public universities to do the same, Kennedy said.

Western Illinois University trustees are supposed to meet this week but will not consider a tuition increase until June, according to Darcie Shinberger, director of media relations for the university. In recent years, Western Illinois University has increased tuition, fees and room and board costs annually about 6 to 7 percent, Shinberger said. When the presidents of Southern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University and Western testified before legislative committees in Springfield earlier this month, they all agreed that tuition increases might be on the table.

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