Tuition increase regrettable, necessary

The ailing economy has many faces. Whether it be sky-high gas prices, rising food costs or loan defaults, Americans are facing tough financial times. College students and their families face an additional income pressure: the rising cost of tuition.

The unemployment rate and the value of the U.S. dollar act as similar benchmarks. This University’s students will experience their own measure of recession should the estimated cost of attending rise to more than $20,000.

That will likely be the case following Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting where members will vote on raising tuition for in-state undergraduates almost 10 percent.

The silver lining of course is that most people on campus already will not be charged the increased rate, due to the Illinois Truth in Tuition law that locks in rates at the beginning of an undergraduate’s career.

But these cost increases, along with accompanying bumps in room and board, student fees and additional college-specific surcharges that are becoming en vogue are the collateral damage of a state government in disarray.

While the average increase during four years remains close to the consumer price index, these additional fees are indications that eventually greater increases will be needed to maintain the University’s overall quality.

This is due in no small part to rampant spending and the failure of Illinois lawmakers to make higher education a priority. Budget squabbles and political gamesmanship have steadily decreased the share state funding holds in the University budget each year.

While the University is certainly not unique among the higher education community in raising rates in the face of decreased state support, it is remarkable that more has not been done.

With the number of degrees awarded in America declining and the hardening consensus that a college degree is a necessity for success in the economy, Illinois needs to take the lead in making higher education more affordable.

This can be done not only by stabilizing the cost of attendance but also by making sure universities are able to maintain their facilities and retain faculty. The long-overdue capital bill, which hopefully would include significant funding for University projects like the restoration of Lincoln Hall, would be a good first step.

The political solutions needed to overcome the legislative gridlock will not be easy to come by. But all those who are interested in keeping this University strong should get involved in pushing for greater state support now, while we can still afford it.