The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Sept. 30, 2018

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Sept. 30, 2018

With tuition talk making local headlines lately, we asked this week's panel of experts: On a 1-10 scale, with 10 being mission critical, how concerned are you about college affordability?


UI's youngest, and longest-serving, president (1979-95, 2010)

Rating: 10.

"When I arrived at Illinois in '79, tuition was about $700 a semester; today the number is 10 times that.

"Question is, what to do? I see at least three specific things.

"First, colleges, state governments and donors need to face up to the problem. For colleges, that means not just cutting budgets but making changes that actually reduce costs for students and institutions. State governments in Illinois and elsewhere must stop shifting costs to students and make the investment in higher education that is required.

"Second, the task for this generation of academic leaders is to invent a fresh approach to higher learning, one fundamentally different from that of the last century. Truth is, those models we have lived with for the last hundred years are now broken and no longer working for academe or for society.

"Third: Don't give up. Treat affordability as a serious issue. To survive and thrive, America must remain on the cutting edge and our citizens must be the best educated in the world. At the moment, that vision is no longer clear. Nor is it affordable."


Former U.S. secretary of education (2009-15) and Chicago Public Schools superintendent (2001-09)

Rating: 8.

"The solution: Vote for politicians — regardless of political party — who see (college) as an investment, not an expense."


Director of higher education policy, The Education Trust

Rating: 10.

"If you want an annual salary, paid time off, good health insurance and retirement savings, you need the kind of job that requires education beyond high school. But the price of college keeps going up at the same time inequality grows along lines of race and class.

"The racial wealth gap is wider today than it was 10 years ago at the start of the Great Recession. Black student debt is a national crisis. College is more important, more expensive, and increasingly out of reach.

"We need bold, transformative solutions that focus on students who struggle the most to pay. We need to make college affordable for these students from the start so they see clearly that college is possible. And we need to dramatically improve college completion rates among first-time students and returning students who have debt but no degree.

"The Debt Free College Act of 2018, introduced by Senator Brian Schatz, is an example of the kind of bold solution the U.S. college affordability crisis requires. If enacted, the federal government and states would team up to cover the full cost of college for every student in the country — not just tuition, but the full, true cost, for up to four years.

"Students and families wouldn't have to borrow. Low-income students would receive resources beyond tuition and as a federal/state partnership, it prohibits states from adding any criteria that could prevent some groups of students from being eligible."


VP, Institute for Higher Education Policy

Rating: 10.

"Our recent research shows that a high-income student can afford about 90 percent of colleges, while low-income, working-class students can only afford between 1 and 5 percent of colleges.

"Indeed, a low-income student today must find a way to finance more than 150 percent of her family's annual income to pay for college — after accounting for the grants and scholarships she receives.

"For high-income students? Fourteen percent."We have promised our students that by studying hard and applying themselves, they can earn a college degree and climb the economic ladder. Yet we are failing to uphold this promise for far too many striving college-goers.

"The solution lies in setting priorities at the federal, state, and collegiate level. At all levels, we must redouble our investment in those who have the least. Federal policymakers should strengthen the Pell Grant program — the targeted financial aid cornerstone that helps more than 7 million low-income people pay for college each year. Congress should ensure the grant increases with inflation and do all they can to restore its purchasing power. While the Pell Grant used to cover the majority of college costs, today it covers less than 30 percent."


President, NCAA

Rating: "An 8, heading toward 10."

"Education remains the single-best vehicle for addressing the social and economic disparities across our society and as such must be considered one of our most important public goods. We have, nonetheless, seen states reduce support for public colleges and universities year after year.

"The burden of paying for a college degree has been shifted dramatically to students and their families in the form of never-higher tuition. The resulting mountain of student loan debt poses a serious threat to the financial health of individuals and even the country as a whole.

"I understand the enormous fiscal pressures states must deal with, including rising expenses for health care and infrastructure. But cutting funding to universities and colleges is not the solution. Indeed, balancing a state budget by reducing education funding is simply paying for today's bills on the back of our economic and social future."



1962 UI grad, former president at Kent State, Cleveland State

Rating: 10.

"Universities are inherently 'messy' places. They do not yield easily to a culture of efficiency; their roots are in cultures of knowledge creation, expansion, conservation, transmission and application. Those roots are messy places, and they are not inexpensive ones.

"But an older view of them was that aggregating well-educated people as the products of those places came to the benefit of the whole society. A highly educated population has been seen as a common good.

"In our current culture of efficiency, it seems that the notion of a common good is lost and, in its place, we've developed a culture which requires real limitations on messiness and the imagination that is produced by it.

"... Some public universities have begun to restrict their academic offerings, cutting 'unproductive' programs that do not have 'markets.'

"Physics, for example, finds itself on the block here and there, for lack of student majors or failure to produce more than X number of degrees in a certain period of time. Who needs physics? Well, only a society that insists on knowing how things work, I suppose."