URBANA — Tuition for in-state freshmen hasn’t changed in five years at the University of Illinois, and trustees will decide next week whether to continue that freeze.
So far, administrators aren’t saying what they will propose. But they’ve noted recently that faculty hiring hasn’t kept up with enrollment gains, partly because the tuition freeze has limited income growth.
Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson declined to say whether the freeze will be extended for a sixth year.
“We’re still in discussions with the board members,” she said.
Systemwide, income from undergraduate tuition has continued to grow in the five years since the freeze was imposed in fall 2015, from $750 million in 2014-15 to $830.1 million in 2018-19, after waivers were granted to veterans, children of employees and other students, according to UI data. Even after subtracting financial aid, net undergraduate tuition grew from $590.8 million to $644.4 million in that time.
At the Urbana campus, the net total for undergraduate tuition (after waivers and financial aid) showed modest growth in those five years, from $435.4 million to $453.5 million last year. But it declined over the past two years from a high of $462.3 million in 2016-17, according to the data requested by The News-Gazette.
Meanwhile, undergraduate enrollment at Urbana has increased by about 1,000 students, from 32,959 in 2014-15 to 33,915, and the UI system as a whole has taken in 4,800 more undergraduates in that period, according to UI data.
The university continued to raise tuition for out-of-state undergraduates and graduate and professional students in the last five years, but Wilson said rising enrollment accounts for most of the increase in tuition revenue. Separately, fees and housing rates have also continued to climb for all students.
Undergraduates provide the bulk of tuition income, as most graduate students receive tuition waivers, and in-state students make up about three-quarters of all undergraduates.
“Because we’ve had a freeze, our tuition income has not grown radically. But we’ve grown enrollment, and we have allowed out-of-state tuition to increase. All those things factor in,” she said.
The new Illinois Commitment program, which provides free tuition to students from families at or below the state’s median income, could lead to a further drop in income for Urbana this year.
In November, presenting the UI’s state funding request to trustees, Wilson said faculty hiring hasn’t kept pace with enrollment growth.
The three campuses combined had 3,367 faculty members in 2009, and that number dropped to 3,280 in fiscal 2019 because of a retirement-incentive program and hiring constraints during lean budget years, she said.
She told trustees the five-year tuition freeze has been an important tool to keep student costs down but “has also made fiscal issues a little challenging at each of our universities.”
Likewise, Vice President and CFO Avijit Ghosh reminded trustees that if tuition revenue doesn’t grow “you don’t have additional resources for the academic enterprise.”
Wilson said the UI has lost ground to its competitors, now ranking last out of 10 national peers in faculty-student ratios, which affect class sizes and opportunities for research or faculty mentoring.
The UI system plans to hire 500 new professors in over the next five years, on top of normal retirements and faculty departures.
The budget request seeks a $75 million funding increase from the state, up 12 percent, including $10 million for new professors and $50 million to improve faculty pay. Another $10 million would go toward undergraduate scholarships for Illinois residents.
The UI has gradually increased its financial aid over the last decade to $231 million at the three campuses combined, more than state, federal and eternal sources combined ($206 million).
“College affordability is a factor across the country and we are very cognizant of that,” Wilson said.
Base tuition at the Urbana campus is $12,036 a year, though higher-cost programs charge up to $17,040. Fees total $3,085 annually, plus $1,088 for optional health insurance. A typical room and board plan costs another $11,480, pushing total costs for some students over $30,000 a year.
Wilson said the majority of in-state undergraduates don’t pay full tuition and fees, including 60 percent at Urbana, 70 percent at the UI Chicago and 79 percent at the UI Springfield.
Wilson said tuition considerations this year are no different from the last few budget cycles. UI officials are considering state funding levels, enrollment and financial aid resources as well as “what other institutions are doing,” she said.
Trustees meet Wednesday in Chicago, where they will also consider fees and housing rates for 2020-21.