Skyrocketing tuition and fees are raising a serious question: Is a college education worth the full cost?
Bowing to legislative pressure as well as public concern, University of Illinois trustees this week are expected to approve modest increases in annual tuition and fees, at least by comparison with previous cost hikes.
Trustees will be voting on a 1.7 percent increase in tuition and a 2.3 percent increase in fees. In actual dollars, full tuition at the Urbana-Champaign campus will increase by $202 to $12,036, and fees will jump by $68 to $2,984.
But including room-and-board costs of $10,180, the full bill for attending the UI for one year is $25,200. Over four years, it's in excess of $100,000.
The UI, of course, remains a bargain by comparative standards. Even with a $100,000 price tag, it must turn applicants away.
In terms of economic investment, however, degrees in some fields are good investments while others are more questionable. That's why the cost of higher education and the prospect of graduating in deep debt are driving an increasingly fractious debate.
The fairly minimal proposed increase marks the second consecutive year trustees opted to hold the line. In January 2013, trustees approved a 1.7 percent tuition increase, the smallest in nearly two decades.
But push is quickly coming to shove. Because its costs are not going down, the UI remains under constant pressure. It's no secret that the state's dire financial condition has resulted in reduced support from the Legislature.
With this relatively new effort to limit tuition, the UI must place increased emphasis on attracting research grants and generating gifts from university donors.
The UI remains the clear choice of the state's high school seniors, so declining enrollment isn't the problem here that it is elsewhere. Despite that, the UI's future is inextricably intertwined with the cost issue that is forcing millions of children and their parents to pay handsomely for what they receive.