URBANA — The University of Illinois may scale back a 21 percent increase in medical school tuition after protests by students who feared it could drive away talented recruits and hurt the college's celebrated diversity.
Trustees today will discuss a much smaller 3 percent tuition increase of $500 a semester for both current and incoming students from Illinois.
The original increase, approved in January, would raise tuition at the College of Medicine by $500 a semester for current students, but $3,500 a semester for students who enroll next fall. Though there were no guarantees, the idea was to keep their tuition rates fairly stable during their four years of medical school, similar to the way undergraduate tuition is managed under the state's guaranteed-tuition law, officials said.
Tuition is now $33,000 a year, or $16,500 a semester, for in-state students and $70,448, or $35,224 a semester, for students from other states. The plan is to raise out-of-state tuition by $276 a semester, to $71,000 annually.
Current students had protested the higher increase, saying the cost could keep students from attending medical school or force them to abandon primary medicine in favor of higher-paying specialties. Two medical students plan to address the board on the issue at Thursday's full board meeting in Urbana.
"We have the most diverse medical school in the country. A position like this could change that," said Trustee Ricardo Estrada.
The college has about 1,300 students at its four campuses in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford and Peoria.
Dean Dimitri Azar, who announced the revised plan at a trustees' committee meeting Wednesday, said the college failed to consult adequately with students and faculty about the initial proposal, which was approved by trustees in January along with other UI tuition rates. He pledged to consult widely with all constituencies, including students, in any future talks on tuition rates.
The original increase was intended to raise about $8.5 million for new initiatives to improve financial aid and update educational resources at the College of Medicine, such as computer-based testing and new course directors for certain classes, officials said. The scaled-back proposal would raise about $1.2 million, depending on enrollment, said Randall Kangas, associate vice president for planning and budgeting.
Azar said those initiatives will now have to be prioritized and phased in over time, with input from students and faculty.
"We learned a lesson from what happened," said Azar, who was appointed dean last year.
The tuition proposal was developed quickly so it could be approved in January and give students predictable costs as they made their decisions about medical school, Azar said.
"In retrospect, something of this magnitude should have been done" with more consultation over a longer period of time, he said.
Estrada said the college's response to student and faculty concerns has been "open and very productive."
Under open-meetings rules, the board can't vote on the measure at Thursday's meeting because it wasn't initially included on the agenda, officials said. But trustees and college officials hope to get a sense of the board Thursday so they can communicate the plans to incoming students before a May 15 decision deadline for medical school admission. University Counsel Tom Bearrows said the board's executive committee could schedule a meeting soon to approve the revised rates, if trustees choose.
Trustees will vote Thursday on a $15 million renovation of instructional areas at the original College of Medicine facility, which dates back to the 1930s and 1940s. Azar said that project will be paid by different funds within the college.
Vice President for Health Affairs Charles "Skip" Garcia said the UI Medical Center needs more than $200 million of upgrades over the next few years, but it's facing a potential "double whammy" from the state in pension and Medicaid reform.
The medical center receives $200 million to $250 million in Medicaid revenue each year. If legislators cut Medicaid services by the 20 percent requested by Gov. Pat Quinn, it would severely compromise the hospital's finances, he said. And should the UI be asked to assume the costs of pensions for its employees, that could force the hospital to close, Garcia said.
The hospital operates on a slim margin, he said, with a positive balance of $12 million to $14 million projected this year after several years of negative or flat balances.
The medical center is taking several measures to cut costs, develop new affiliations with other providers and enhance "marquee" specialities to attract more patients, Garcia said.