Increase in tuition coming

By Kiyoshi Martinez

Tuition could be increasing $700 for students at the Urbana-Champaign campus starting July 1, 2006, according to a document obtained by The Daily Illini. The same document also revealed tuition increases of $1,000 at the Springfield campus and $600 at the Chicago campus for the 2006-2007 academic year.

The document said the recommended tuition increase would bring an additional $27 million to the University during the 2007 fiscal year, with $16.1 million coming from the Urbana-Champaign campus.

University spokesperson Tom Hardy would not confirm the authenticity of the document, but did state in an e-mail exchange that after viewing the document “it would be inaccurate to report that the numbers contained in the document . are the tuition rates that eventually will be recommended to the BOT.”

University President B. Joseph White said during a Feb. 14 interview that he expected a tuition increase to be announced by the Board during their April 11 meeting.

“Even in the face of significant tuition increases of the past and surely those that will come, which by the way we impose only to maintain the quality of the University of Illinois, I think we offer one of the greatest educational values in America and I’m very proud of it,” White said during a WILL-TV interview on Feb. 14.

White also said in an e-mail exchange that only the Board has the final authority to set tuition and fees after University administration recommendations.

The document is titled “FY2007 Tuition Recommendations (Jan 06 BOT Meeting),” and also has the text “BOT would act on FY07 tuition recommendations at January 2006 Board meeting.” However, no tuition increases appeared on the Jan. 19 Board meeting agenda.

White said tuition recommendations to the Board were delayed because the University “had a sense in January that there might be proposed budget action from the (state government) affecting higher education and (the University) wanted to see more cards. This turned out to be true.”

Hardy said the tuition recommendation could have been held because of a possible need to wait for the outcome of the state legislative process to approve Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s budget proposal, which has yet to be passed.

“The Board of Trustees is taking a look at the tuition year in and year out,” Hardy said. “There are a whole variety of factors the University has to consider. Among those are increasing costs. When utility costs go up, or when health care costs go up, or just the cost of providing incremental salary adjustments go up, you need to cover that somehow.”

In the University’s Strategic Plan, released in January, one assumption of the plan includes increased funding through an expectation of “tuition to grow at close to 10 percent annually” and for “state funding to grow modestly” at not more than one percent annually.

Although the numbers obtained in the document are not final, the document said the guaranteed increase in tuition rates for incoming, in-state freshmen would be 9.9 percent at the Urbana campus, 21.9 percent at the Springfield campus and 9.7 percent at the Chicago campus.

If the proposed budget is approved by the state legislature, the University will receive an increase of 1.48 percent in state appropriations from last year.

Funding for the University goes through a multi-step process. The University first submits a request to the Illinois Board of Higher Education for the upcoming fiscal year. The IBHE then makes a recommendation to the governor who submits a proposed budget for the legislature to approve. Once approved, money is appropriated to the University.

For the 2007 fiscal year, the University submitted a request to the IBHE for $781.6 million. The IBHE recommended to the governor that the University receive $706.1 million. Blagojevich’s recommended budget, which is pending approval from the state legislature, appropriates $708.2 million for the University.

If the state budget is approved, the University would receive about $10 million more in the 2007 fiscal year from the state than the prior year. However, the increase in state appropriations will still be less than the funding received at 2003 fiscal year levels.

Blagojevich spokesperson Lena Parsons from the Illinois Office of Management and Budget said the reduction in funding during 2004 was because of a historic $5 billion deficit, but that funding for core programs for the neediest students were not reduced and that the University has helped to reduce administrative costs that do not directly impact students.

“Everyone, whether it’s the Board of Higher Education or the University or . anyone else, has been doing their part,” Parsons said. “Education has always been a key commitment of the governor.”

During the 2006 fiscal year, the University received $697.9 million from the state. If the state were to fund the University at the same level during the 2007 fiscal year, the University would require $725.7 million just to cover the inflation rate – assuming no other cost increases, meaning the University would need an additional $17.5 million.

Parsons said the governor’s budget proposal has always taken the recommendation from the IBHE and this year added an additional $2 million to it.

Executive Director of the IBHE Judy Erwin confirmed this practice and said that the IBHE has to juggle all the budget requests from public universities, community colleges and scholarship funds and weigh that against what higher education is likely to receive from the governor’s office.

“Do they have more needs than that? Absolutely,” Erwin said. “Unfortunately, because of limited revenue . we have to prioritize what the needs are.”

University Trustee David V. Dorris said these are tough times for the University and for the people in the state government.

“The people in Springfield are in a vise and one of the pressure relief points is us, at the University,” Dorris said. “Do I want to beat up on them? No.”

White also said that he was not disappointed with the governor’s budget proposal and that an increase in appropriations was very welcome after four years of cuts and no increases.

“Unfortunately, the proposed increase is so modest that we need to continue to rely significantly on increased tuition to maintain the University’s academic quality,” White said. “We also face a very large deferred maintenance problem – over $700 million – in our academic facilities with little prospective incremental help from the state. We need to find a way to get on top of this problem.”

Hardy said the incremental increase will not eliminate all the pressure on tuition and other revenue sources for the University, but it will help.

“This University and other public universities around the state have had to make a lot of strategic re-allocations, cutbacks in the level of spending,” Hardy said. “Some of the impact of that is the deferred maintenance of our facilities, courses available and thus larger course sections and a larger faculty-to-student ratio. Those kind of things are documented and well known.”

Dorris said that it would be a sad day for him personally if he ever had to vote for a tuition increase, but his mind was not made up yet.

“We’re doing the best we can to keep two things in balance,” he said. “Giving every qualified student in the state access to the University of Illinois, and keeping the University at a very high-level status.”

Jason Koch, Vasanth Sridharan, Danielle Gaines and Nick Escobar contributed to this report.