UI again near top of Big Ten in costs to students

UI again near top of Big Ten in costs to students

Freshmen starting classes this week at the University of Illinois — and their check-writing parents — know all too well that the school ranks near the top of the Big Ten in one important respect: tuition and fees.

A News-Gazette survey shows the UI once again second among Big Ten public universities in tuition and fees combined.

Northwestern, as a private university, outdistances all other conference schools, charging students more than $47,000 annually. Penn State is first among the publics, topping the $17,000 mark.

The UI is next, with a base tuition rate of $12,036 and fees of almost $3,000.

And with tuition "differentials" that can amount to several thousand dollars, UI students in engineering and other high-cost programs shell out as much as $17,040 annually in tuition. Most other conference schools also have tuition surcharges for specific colleges or departments, and some charge juniors and seniors more as well.

By the UI's own calculations, the university has held the second-place spot since the 2008-09 school year, up from sixth in 2000.

And nationally, the UI ranked third last year among the 34 public institutions in the Association of American Univerisities, a group of top research universities. It was seventh in 2000.

Why the climb?

One big reason: under a 2003 state law, the UI must guarantee incoming freshmen that their tuition won't go up for four years of undergraduate study. So annual cost increases must be built-in up front to cover inflation during those years.

"At almost every other university it can change every year. Here it can't. You're set for four years," said Randall Kangas, associate vice president for planning and budgeting.

Ohio State's website, in fact, warns students to expect increases of 5 to 10 percent a year.

UI officials also cite the ongoing decline in state funding for the university, which has dropped steadily since 2002, especially in inflation-adjusted terms. Tuition, which once made up about 35 percent of the UI's budget, now accounts for 61 percent.

"A lot of this is driven by competition for the best faculty and staff. And it is impacted directly by state support," Kangas said. "If you're going to be competitive, how are you going to find the money to do that?"

In 2011, after several years of escalating tuition costs, UI trustees adopted a board policy calling for tuition to approximately track inflation. For the past two years, tuition has risen just 1.7 percent, or about $200 annually, the lowest increases in nearly two decades.

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.

"We are, in terms of a sticker price, one of the highest in the nation. Sticker is a lot different than net tuition," Kangas said.

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. The UI provides more than 31 percent of the financial aid that goes to its students, up from 1 percent in 2000.

About 70 percent of undergraduates at the Urbana campus — about 23,500 students — get some type of financial aid. Of those, 40 percent have to take out loans.

Student body President Mitch Dickey, a junior in political science, is familiar with those statistics. Dickey and his parents have cobbled together various loans to get through the UI.

He's hoping to save money this year by sharing an apartment this year and adhering to a strict budget. His grandparents plan to stock his freezer with food. And then there's his job as a Zamboni driver for Campus Recreation.

Dickey notes that with room and board, books, supplies and other expenses added in, the total cost of attending is $30,000 to $35,000 annually, while the median household income in Illinois is just above $55,000.

"We're talking about more than half of the median household income in Illinois for one person's education," said Dickey, who hopes to press the issue this year.

He thinks the UI needs to be more mindful of its high cost when it comes to decisions about administrative budgets and "what we're building and where we spend our money."

"What kind of students are we trying to attract? Are we trying to be a public institution for all of Illinois and all of Illinois' brightest? Or are we trying to compete with private schools for cost?"

2014-15 Big Ten tuition

Here are base in-state tuition rates and fees for entering freshman at Big Ten campuses for a typical academic year. Most schools, including Illinois, have higher rates for specific colleges, such as business or engineering. Some, like Michigan, also charge juniors and seniors more. UI freshmen keep the same rate for four years of undergraduate study.

School Base tuition Fees Total
Northwestern $46,836 $416 $47,252
Penn State $16,572 $930 $17,502
Illinois $12,036* $2,910 $14,946
Rutgers $10,954 $2,859 $13,813
Michigan $13,158 $328 $13,486
Michigan State $13,200 Most included $13,246
Minnesota $12,060 $1,056 $13,116
Wisconsin $9,273 $1,137 $10,410
Ohio State $10,037 Most included $10,037
Indiana $9,086 $1,300 $10,386
Purdue $9,208 $794 $10,002
Maryland $7,612 $1,815 $9,427
Nebraska $6,480 $1,689 $8,169
Iowa $6,678 $1,401 $8,079

* — Illinois students could pay as much as $17,040

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