UI tuition: Six figures for four years
While relatively small, this year's proposed increase adds to mounting expenses
URBANA — In-state tuition for a new freshman at the University of Illinois next year could cost $12,036 — or as much as $17,040, depending on his field of study.
Room and board will cost $10,180 — or much more if he opts for a single room, air-conditioning or three meals a day.
College costs vary widely depending on a student's major and housing choices, but here's one number that stands out: $100,000.
Even the most basic tuition, fees, and room-and-board plan will cost more than $25,000 next year if trustees approve a package of rates today — meaning a four-year education at the UI will push above the six-figure mark.
Add in tuition surcharges (up to $5,000), books (estimated at $1,200), and other living costs ($2,500), and the bill can easily top $30,000 annually.
That's $120,000 for four years — assuming a student completes college in four years.
The sticker shock actually hit parents a few years back, when annual costs reached the $20,000 mark, said Dan Mann, director of student financial aid at the UI.
"I don't think it's as surprising or as traumatic as it was a few years ago, just because there's much more in the news about what the cost of a college education is, even at a public university," he said.
Students interviewed Wednesday were relieved the proposed tuition increase is small (about $200 annually), but said that's just one factor in college costs.
"It's good that they're increasing it by just a little bit, just because of how much it costs right now. We really need to work on freezing tuition and cutting the cost of college," said sophomore Mitch Dickey, a member of the Illinois Student Senate.
"If you're increasing costs, you're reducing your competitiveness. As of right now everything's going to keep going up."
Meeting in Chicago, trustees will vote today on tuition, fees and housing rates for 2014-15. If approved, tuition for new freshmen at the Urbana campus will rise $202 to a base of $12,036, or 1.7 percent, among the lowest increases in two decades. Those rates are locked in for four years under the state's guaranteed tuition law, which dates back to 2003.
Under the proposals, Urbana students will pay 2.3 percent more in fees next year, or $68, a total of $2,984 annually. Student fees go to the library, union, campus recreation, athletics, counseling center and more. Undergraduate room-and-board costs will rise 2 percent, or $201, to $10,180 per year. That figure is based on a double-occupancy room and a 14-meal-per-week plan. Room-and-board costs also are locked in for four years if the student stays in campus residence halls.
UI in-state tuition rates are among the highest in the Big Ten. In 2011, after several years of escalating tuition costs, trustees adopted a board policy calling for tuition to essentially track inflation. Last January, the university approved a 1.7 percent increase for 2013-14, the smallest increase in 18 years.
"For them just to do $200, that's pretty good. Normally you see big jumps," said UI senior Rashaun Carter, 25, an aviation major. Still, he said, tuition rates are high to begin with. And with housing, student fees, extra flight fees and other costs, "it all adds up," he said.
Like other students lined up at the UI's financial aid office, Carter has cobbled together grants, scholarships and loans to make it through school — "anything and everything, as much as possible, to help pay off the cost."
Carter, who grew up in Champaign, now lives in Rantoul with his wife and 2-year-old son. He has a five-year plan for paying off his student debt, but it will depend on his job prospects after graduation, he said.
UI officials say less than half of all undergraduates at the three campuses pay the full "sticker price," as a majority get some form of need-based or merit-based aid. At the Urbana campus, about 53 percent pay full tuition and fees.
The UI has also pledged to boost the amount of financial aid it provides, separate from federal Pell grants and state MAP grants. A portion of the money from tuition increases is allocated to need-based grant aid. Roughly speaking, "if undergraduate tuition revenue goes up by 10 percent, need-based aid goes up by 10 percent," said Randall Kangas, associate vice president for planning and budgeting.
University-wide, the UI actually provides more need-based financial aid than either the state or federal grant program, he said. This year the figure tops $78 million.
At the Urbana campus, the amount of need-based aid has risen from $23.8 million in 2011-2013 to an estimated $38 million this year, he said. That doesn't include scholarships, fellowships or tuition waivers.
About 70 percent of undergraduates at the Urbana campus — about 23,500 students — get some type of financial aid. Of those, 40 percent take out loans.
The average debt at graduation for those borrowers totals $24,507, but that figure actually dropped from $24,657 a year ago, Mann said. It could mean students are getting more aid from the UI and therefore borrowing less, he said. Or it could be that the university is attracting more affluent students.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy said trustees don't want to raise tuition faster than inflation, to ensure the UI remains accessible to students. But two factors may force the issue: state funding cuts, or the state's failure to pay the UI on time.
The state has owed the UI up to $500 million in recent years, he said. That gap is covered by taking money out of the UI's endowment and keeping it in cash rather than investing it, he said.
If the potential investment return on that $500 million is 8 percent, that means that "every year, because we're keeping that money in cash, we're losing $40 million" — money that could have gone to scholarships for several thousand students, he said.
"The students that we really want to attract to Illinois can go somewhere else for free. Never mind less, they can go somewhere else for free. How do we compete with that?" Kennedy said.
"The reality is that we need to raise more money," he said. "We've been a laggard, and we're going to be a leader."