Tuition hike at UI approved 'reluctantly'
URBANA – They're not happy about it, but University of Illinois trustees approved a 9.5 percent hike in tuition costs for next school year.
Before voting unanimously Wednesday to raise tuition to $9,242 annually for new students, trustees agonized about the impact on affordability, especially for middle-class families who don't qualify for financial aid.
"We hold our nose and vote yes," Trustee Ken Schmidt said Wednesday. "Everyone has to know we're doing this reluctantly."
The quandary is that the UI also has to ensure academic quality by maintaining its labs and classrooms and retaining top faculty who are being lured away by higher-paying schools, trustees said. That money has to come from somewhere when funding increases from the state are scarce or nonexistent, they said.
Trustee Robert Sperling suggested the university might have to look at other ways to raise money – for instance, admitting more out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition rates.
He said the 3 percent salary increases planned for faculty this year, with another 1.5 percent reserved for targeted raises, probably won't be enough.
"If we allow a dilution of the product that we provide by not retaining our top faculty, by not giving them the financial packages they're entitled to – I think we're doing them a disservice," he said. "Over time, we will lose some of these people."
UI President B. Joseph White agreed and said the university is trying to free up salary money by cutting costs elsewhere. He also pledged to examine productivity and said the UI has a new "resources initiative" under way to "ensure that every possible dollar is delivered to the academic front lines."
The new tuition rate, about $802 higher than this year's, will apply only to new undergraduates. Currently enrolled students will pay the same as they did their freshman year under the state's tuition-guarantee program, designed to give families predictability in college costs.
While agreeing with that goal, board Chairman Lawrence Eppley said the university also has to be able to guarantee quality to students.
Trustee David Dorris said he voted yes out of necessity but opposes any tuition increase. He took issue with the position that "we'll never get any more money from Springfield."
"It's the obligation of the state of Illinois to provide an education for its students," Dorris said. "Maybe the best solution is to say, 'We're not going to increase tuition,' and force their hand by closing the doors."
"For some reason we're embarrassed or ashamed to ask for what we need," Schmidt agreed.
Higher tuition is essentially "privatizing" public universities and putting college education out of reach for many families, Dorris said, which he finds "deeply disturbing."
"We have to educate our best minds," he said. "They are our hope for the future."
UI officials reported Wednesday that tuition income will be about $8.3 million less than expected universitywide this year, about 1.4 percent, because enrollments and collections came in below estimates. Vice President Walter Knorr, the UI's chief financial officer, blamed rising energy costs and a poor economy for some families' inability to pay.
The public "has to step up and finance this place rather than put it on the backs of the students," Schmidt said.
Everybody wants "first-class education for their kids," he said, "but nobody wants to pay the price."
Schmidt said two state-mandated scholarship programs, for veterans and students chosen to receive legislative scholarships, cost the UI $20 million a year, forcing other students to pay higher tuition.
"We need funded mandates, not unfunded mandates," he said.
Trustees also approved a 6.1 percent increase in student fees, to $2,594 annually, and a 9 percent increase in student health insurance, to $394 annually. Combined with new room and board rates approved in January, an entering UI freshman will pay more than $20,000 in total costs next year.