UI requests $681 million in state aid

UI requests $681 million in state aid

SPRINGFIELD — University of Illinois officials say they want to increase the institution's enrollment, maintain a tuition freeze and a high level of in-state undergraduate students, and boost financial aid. But doing so will require an increase in state aid, they said.

The university made its annual appearance before the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, making the case for a $681 million budget request that is 5 percent greater than the amount two years ago. The committee took no vote on the request, nor that of any other agency that appeared at Thursday's hearing.

Senators said privately that budget talks haven't even begun, although the scheduled end of the legislative session is less than two months away.

UI President Tim Killeen told senators that he wants to increase the university system's enrollment, now just under 84,000, to 93,000 by 2021.

Most of the enrollment growth would be at the Chicago and Springfield campuses, he said.

"It's a mix of things. At Urbana, we'd be strongly propelling the distance education, the online components," he explained after the hearing. "We'd also be looking at professional master's programs at Urbana since the undergraduate classes are close to capacity."

At the UI-Chicago, he said, enrollment is more than 30,000 and can grow larger.

"What I want to emphasize is that we have a plan, we're following it and we're on track," Killeen said.

UI Vice President Wilson said the freshman class at the Urbana campus "is about as big as it can be right now, because everybody has to live in the residence halls, and there are capacity issues there as well as concerns about whether you can get the classes you need to graduate. They're about tapped out on the freshman level, but they can bring in more transfer students."

Killeen also said that the UI will continue a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates for the fourth consecutive year next fall and that he would like to extend it at least two years beyond that.

"We're very proud of our tuition freeze. That was not an easy thing to do in the last few years as you might imagine. We want to maintain that and our commitment to affordability," he said.

Wilson said that 80 percent of UI undergraduates are Illinois residents. At the Urbana campus, 74 percent of undergrads are from Illinois, and that percentage is much higher than at other Big Ten schools, she said. Wisconsin's in-state level is 57 percent, Michigan's is 51 percent and the Big Ten average is 62 percent.

"We want to convey that we have a very strong commitment to Illinois families," she said.

The UI's budget request also includes $10 million more for student financial aid, Killeen said.

"Affordability is clearly a major problem," he said, connecting the tuition freeze to the budget request, "because we need reliable financial support from the state to do that."

The hearing was much less contentious that UI budget sessions in past years.

"I think it's fair to give the U of I credit for undertaking what is clearly an intentional path in recent years to bring more in-state students to the Urbana campus," said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, a member of the committee. "And also attempting to get a handle on the tuition issues. They've now demonstrated several years of commitment to both of those."

Also Thursday:

— Killeen said he believes UI fund-raising for the new Carle College of Medicine on the Urbana campus "will be successful."

He also said that funding for the federal National Institutes of Health is budgeted for a $3 billion increase, "and we are perfectly positioned right now with our amazing Chicago medical school and now this new medical school in Urbana-Champaign ... to go after those new dollars."

Rose said fundraising for the engineering-based med school was only 10 percent of what it is supposed to be, but after talking with UI administrators Wednesday, he is convinced "it's back on track. Clearly it got off the track."

— Killeen said he favors having "20 to 30 years" to enact the pension-cost shift that Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed to implement over four years. Under Rauner's plan, universities would be responsible for picking up the cost of employee pensions rather than the state government, as is the policy now.

"If it's abrupt, it's very disruptive," Killeen said. "I'd start at 20 (years). It's got to be sufficiently long for us to plan around and to be realistic and not to come on the backs of our current students or next year's students."

— Urbana campus Chancellor Robert Jones said a Division 1 hockey program is a "quite viable" opportunity if the university athletic program was to expand. But it is "largely dependent upon philanthropic support," he said.