UI official: Budget cuts affecting tuition

URBANA – The University of Illinois has seen the effects of the poor economy in cuts to its state budget for the last two years.

The UI had a mid-year rescission in fiscal year 2002, a $74 million budget cut in fiscal year 2003 and another rescission that year. And its budget for the current fiscal year was cut by $58 million.

But the share of state tax money going to higher education has been declining for years, long before the current recession. State appropriations have represented a steadily shrinking portion of the UI's budget in the last 20 years, and at the same time tuition money has made up a larger part of the budget.

A Scripps Howard News Service analysis found little correlation between a weak state economy and recent increases in public university tuition rates. Its report found tuition hikes did not reflect economic pressures in each state and that the highest increases were often in the states suffering only moderate financial difficulties.

A UI administrator says that while the university has been relying more on tuition revenue for several years, the budget cuts coming from the state have added pressure to raise tuition rates.

"Since about 1990, the share of state tax revenue for public universities, for their operating budgets, has been on a steady decline," said UI Vice President for Academic Affairs Chester Gardner. "While there is this longer-term trend, with the budget cuts of the past couple of years, clearly the state's economic situation had a big impact on that."

Last year, the UI raised tuition by 10 percent to help preserve teaching positions and courses and maintain library hours and counseling services that otherwise would have been eliminated because of budget cuts. Tuition will go up another 5 percent this fall, bringing in $30 million and allowing the UI to restore about 10 percent of planned cuts in teaching positions and course sections.

Next year, new students who are Illinois residents will pay $5,568 in tuition and $1,176 in fees (excluding health insurance charges) for the year. That's an increase of $266 in tuition and $40 in fees.

Administrators had planned to recommend an 8 percent tuition increase for the fall, but they backed off and recommended 5 percent instead after Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he would seek a lower increase.

"In all fairness to state governments, they have many, many demands," Gardner said, noting rising human services costs and the need in recent years to address the underfunding of its education pension system. "I do believe there is a policy shift here in Illinois that is leading the state to not fund higher education at the level they had once done." That leaves universities to face rising costs and the challenges of maintaining quality, and the result is increasing pressure on tuition.

State tax revenue made up 46.7 percent of the UI's budget in fiscal year 1980, compared with 27.6 percent in fiscal year 2003. By comparison, the portion of the budget coming from tuition revenue doubled during the same time period, from 5.7 percent to 11.8 percent.

Gardner said tuition revenue is just one of the ways the UI is trying to meet its budget demands. It is also attempting to reduce administrative costs, modernizing business systems to make those operations more efficient, and looking more to private donations.

You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or via e-mail at jheckel@news-gazette.com.

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