Extra tuition money funds classroom repair

By Anna Heinemann

Desks won’t fold open, chairs are wobbling loose, and classrooms and lecture halls are not being used to their full capacity.

But thanks to a “truth in tuition” law that passed in 2003 and a huge effort from a small committee of University of Illinois students, these rooms are getting a facelift this year.

Under the “truth in tuition” law, the University Board of Trustees froze the tuition rate for this year’s incoming freshmen at a set price that would anticipate cost of living and student fee increases that may occur over the next four years. This semester, freshmen are now partially paying for cost increases down the line, which has created a temporary surplus in money the University receives from tuition.

But it was the efforts of the 13-member Tuition Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) that encouraged the University to use the extra money from the tuition change to remodel classrooms around campus.

“This would not have happened without the leadership of that student group,” said University spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

TPAC was formed three years ago to review proposals on how to spend a new $500 surcharge for incoming freshmen, said Felipe Hillard, a part-time student and committee member. Over time, the group evolved from advising the University on spending decisions to playing an important role in forming the University’s policy decisions on tuition and fees.

“Now, it’s become extremely critical that we’re involved in the process,” Hillard said.

According to Hassen Al-Shawaf, senior in LAS and member of TPAC, the committee members are selected from a proposed group of applicants to serve until graduation or resignation. The committee includes a variety of students from multiple academic disciplines, years in school and backgrounds.

“Basically, we look for people who act as advocates for students as a whole,” Hillard said.

Adam Blahnik, senior in LAS and TPAC member, said the committee is important because students have a right to be involved in the decision over how their tuition money is spent.

“It’s students’ money, so we need student approval,” Blahnik said.

Hillard said that when TPAC was asked about what to do with the extra money from the freeze in tuition, the overriding answer was to rehabilitate classrooms.

“We wanted to spend the money in a lump sum so students could see a lasting effect, so the funding wouldn’t just dwindle away,” he said.

The University agreed with TPAC and decided to spend $4 million taken directly from the tuition increase to “completely gut” classrooms in disarray, Kaler said. Any salvageable chairs or desks in these rooms will be used in other classrooms.

Because there is an additional $500,000 in reserve for renovations, students who see rooms with broken desks or chairs should call the Facilities and Services division to have their classroom added to the list of rooms that need repairs, she said.

Kaler said the renovations couldn’t come at a better time.

“It’s critical because we’re beginning to completely renovate Lincoln Hall and we have to be able to move students to other places,” Kaler said. “Our buildings need to be up to handle that flow.”

Repairs in the classrooms vary from complete seat replacements to full renovations to installation of technology like new projectors and screens.

Kaler said she hopes these new additions will help the rooms be used to their full capacity.

“Part of the reason that the capacity for the numbers of hours these rooms are in use is so low is that they’re crummy – no one uses them,” she said. “Now that we’re remodeling, we’re confident weekly room hours will increase.”

Because the Foreign Language Building is used during summer orientation, its renovations were started first and will continue into the first weeks of this semester, Kaler said.

During the semester break this winter, renovations will begin in the Main Library, the Armory, the English Building and David Kinley Hall, among others. The entire process of replacing desks and chairs and doing other renovations in these rooms should be completed by the end of next semester.

“After this year, all the freshmen now will get three years of benefit from that work and from the tuition increase,” Kaler said.