When recent Monticello High School graduate Kyle Vogelzang and his family looked at college choices, they made the same decision they'd made two times before.
"We sat down with our two older children and with Kyle and did cost comparisons," said LeAndra Vogelzang, their mother. "When we got to the bottom line, they said it's a no-brainer."
Kyle will start at Parkland College in Champaign.
At Parkland, annual tuition and fees for students taking 15 credit hours a semester is $2,460, compared with tuition and fees at the University of Illinois that add up to $9,966.
The Vogelzangs bought cars for their youngsters, something LeAndra said served as an incentive. Still, she said, the Vogelzangs save up to $9,000 the UI would charge for room and board by living at home and commuting for two years, and that's a huge incentive added to tuition.
"I'm looking into ag, maybe ag engineering," said Kyle, who will attend Parkland on scholarship, another incentive. "You can get general studies out of the way anywhere, so I might as well do it at Parkland. And Parkland has an excellent ag program, too.
"I want to get my foot in the door, keep my grades up and go from there."
Annie Shiley, who also graduated from Monticello High this year, is going to Parkland with plans to transfer to a university in two years.
Her twin sister, Elizabeth, is starting at the UI as a freshman, and the two plan to compare experiences.
"To me, Parkland was a very good start for what I want to do, which is something in hospitality management," Annie said. "I'm not sure exactly what the main thing I want to do is, and this is a less costly way to learn, to get the general education courses out of the way and get the experience of what college is like."
She said her parents "want me to start wisely.
"I love Parkland. It helps you get started in the right direction, and it's the cheap and smart way to go," Annie said.
Shiley said 57 of the 121 members of her graduating class are going to Parkland this fall.
Parkland Comptroller Chris Randles said officials, beginning in the 1994-95 school year, chose to increase tuition in relatively small increments every year to keep up with growing costs so students and parents know exactly how to plan expenses.
"And it goes both ways," Randles said. "It helps the college plan because we have some concept of what revenues will be."
Tuition for a full-time student attending Parkland in 1994-95 was $41 a credit hour; it since has doubled to the current $82 a credit hour. By comparison, tuition and fees for the 1994-95 school year at the UI were about $3,456 – which means they have almost tripled in the 12 years since.
Randles said tuition increases cover the growth of academic programs and facilities, the growing student enrollment, and salaries and benefits for the employees that accompany it.
"We also keep an eye on what other community colleges are charging and try to keep things in line," he said.
Randles said Parkland's tuition is ninth highest among the state's 40 community college districts.
Dave Shiley, father of Annie and Elizabeth, said his older two sons – one still in college and the second contemplating graduate school – spent time at Parkland, too.
"From a parent's perspective, it doesn't make sense for kids who may not be sure what they want to do wandering around at a school as large as the UI," Shiley said. "Parkland's had this connotation of 'going to a junior college,' but its reputation is way up there nationally, it's an excellent program and I'm worried about getting four kids through college."
He said Parkland's strong ties with the UI relieves admissions anxiety.
"You get the grades and you're in," Shiley said.
Blue Ridge High classmates Kevin Bergman and Chad Merriken are working at Monsanto this summer, saving up money for college expenses. Both will live at home while they attend Parkland – and both hope to earn excellent grades so they can transfer to the UI's highly competitive College of Engineering.
"I couldn't get into the college as a freshman," said Kevin, who's taking a trigonometry class at Parkland this summer to get a head start on studies.
"Money is a big part of it," said Chad, whose sister and brother also attended Parkland.
LeAndra Vogelzang said she was so impressed with her older children's Parkland experience, she decided to earn a degree herself.
"I never went beyond high school, but I enrolled at Parkland. I attend class one night a week. I intend to transfer and earn my degree in four years," she said. "The kids inspired me."