Tom Kacich | IBHE head isn't exactly the UI's best advocate

Tom Kacich | IBHE head isn't exactly the UI's best advocate

University of Illinois officials have damage control to do with state senators after a hearing last week turned into another UI bash-fest.

The university's budget wasn't even on the agenda at the Senate Appropriations Committee. In fact, it's not scheduled until April 5, so the UI administration has more than a month to calm the waters.

The trouble began Wednesday when Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, noted that his daughter, a senior in high school with a 30 ACT score and a 4.5 GPA, had applied to eight colleges, four of them in Illinois.

"She has not committed yet, but I can guarantee you she is leaving the state. Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa all made it less expensive for her than to go here in Illinois," he said. "She applied to the U of I and they gave her nothing. So we have all of these other colleges who say we want you and yet our flagship school said we don't have anything for you."

Al Bowman, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, didn't help with his response.

"If you have 5,000 students from mainland China paying out-of-state tuition, what's the incentive for them to discount to an in-state youngster in order to land that resident? So the economics don't work," he said.

Ka-boom.

"Then perhaps they shouldn't be getting the support from the state," McConchie replied. "I mean then, why are we giving hundreds of millions of dollars to a state university when I think the priority would be to educate kids from our state? Why are we then subsidizing them so that they can turn around and bring in folks from out of state or out of country who can pay a higher amount? That doesn't compute for me."

Bowman's response didn't help.

"If your youngster had applied to Illinois State I think she would have gotten a better deal than she is getting at the out-of-state institution," said Bowman, a former president at Illinois State. "But she probably wanted a Big Ten or Big 12 experience, and at least at the Urbana campus because of the composition of their applicant pool, she couldn't get an award. I think it's pure economics."

Bowman said, "From what I am reading, the University of Illinois Urbana campus has begun to understand this problem and is making a concerted effort to recruit Illinois students and they're going to invest dollars to do that."

Nudging the UI further under the bus, he said, "A university that is a public institution that gets public support has to prioritize its Illinois residents, and if you make admissions decisions and financial aid decisions based solely on economics, then we end up with problems like you're describing."

Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, joined the fray.

"This is an Illinois school and there's not access for enough of our kids who are the best and who are the brightest," she said, adding that maybe the UI should make its enrollment 20 percent Chinese and "charge them a lot of extra money and fix all our budget problems."

Many of the numbers and policies cited during the hearing were, unfortunately for the UI, unflattering and don't fit the university's narrative of how things are changing.

For example, there were 3,231 undergraduate Chinese students at the Urbana campus last fall; 5,569 total international undergrads; and 24,595 in-state undergrads.

So 73 percent of undergrads this fall are from Illinois, while the average in-state enrollment among Big Ten schools is 62 percent. The Urbana campus had the second-highest percentage of in-state freshmen in the Big Ten last fall, behind only Rutgers.

The Urbana campus has increased its financial aid from internal sources by 171 percent in the last decade, and tuition will be frozen for a fifth year next year.

You can be certain the UI will be sharing those numbers and more with legislators, and Al Bowman, in the coming weeks.

James gets his papers

Stan James of Rantoul, a former Champ