UI’s rising tuition follows trend

By Andy Kwalwaser

University tuition increased last week, but the Board of Trustee’s decision to raise the cost of attendance for incoming freshmen comes in the wake of decreasing state funds.

“It is symbolic that this is the first year the University of Illinois tuition would top $20,000,” said student trustee Chime Asonye. “But it’s the same spike we had last year.”

University tuition has increased steadily in the past decade.

Public universities in Illinois are required to offer locked-in tuition rates for four years at a time. The four-year rate is equivalent to a 3.7 percent annual increase.

However, the increases were made even though the state has not confirmed its 2009 budget.

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Incoming students and their families have a right to know the cost of next semester’s tuition, said Asonye, senior in LAS.

“We want to help students with proper financial planning,” Asonye said. “We can’t wait for the state to make a decision.”

Additionally, financial aid will increase in proportion to tuition.

“Just looking at the sticker price is not as telling of price and affordability as it once was because of scholarships,” said W. Randall Kangas, assistant vice president for planning and budgeting at the University.

Not everyone believes higher tuition translates into better education.

“It’s a little excessive, but it’s what we expected,” said Abbey Berry, resident of Deerfield, Ill., whose son is considering attending the University in the fall. “It’s the cost of living going up.”

Berry said she does not think the increased tuition will increase the quality of education at the University.

However, Asonye said the increase is necessary to maintain the current level of academic quality available to students.

“Whenever we raise the price, we have to be conscious of access,” Asonye said. “There’s no point in having academic access unless it is to a quality education.”

Last year, tuition at Illinois public universities was more than $2,000 above the national average, according to a report by the University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Illinois is not the only state with rising tuition. Several public universities in the Midwest, including Indiana University and the University of Michigan, have increased tuition rates in the past year.

“Public education across the nation is suffering from a lack of state funds,” Asonye said. “Our situation is parallel to a lot of other situations nationally.”

Illinois funding for higher education has dropped by 17.9 percent in recent years, according to the institute report. “The state has more real priorities than it has real funding,” Kangas said. “It’s a very competitive environment out there.”

Kangas said the University does not expect an increase in state funds over the next fiscal year, with more and more state resources being allocated to elementary education and health care.

But the state does cover retirement and other benefits for University employees, which are independent of additional funds for the University’s operating budget.

“State direct support has been lagging, but we are grateful for the indirect support,” Kangas said.