Increasing financial aid not “fee”sible at Illinois

Increasing+financial+aid+not+%E2%80%9Cfee%E2%80%9Dsible+at+Illinois

By Matt Silich

On March 27, Stanford University announced that, beginning in 2015 it will pay for the tuition of any students whose parents’ have a combined annual income of less than $125,000.

“Our highest priority is that Stanford remain affordable and accessible to the most talented students, regardless of their financial circumstances,” said Stanford Provost John Etchemendy. “Our generous financial aid program accomplishes that.”

Stanford’s primary interest in providing such excellent financial aid to students is that it allows the school to cast a wider net when fishing for intelligent applicants. Stanford seems to be prioritizing the quality of its students over its short-term financial future, something much rarer than it should be in the educational system.

In addition to Stanford, other prestigious private schools have similar programs: Dartmouth offers free tuition for students whose parents’ income falls under $100,000, while Harvard and Yale offer similar deals for incomes under $65,000. 

Stanford’s commitment to making the school accessible to low-income students should be commended. Thousands of students now have a chance to attend one of the most accomplished universities in the world because of this change.

Things are different, however, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It would be unheard of for a public university to allocate such a huge quantity of funds to student aid. As beneficial as it could be for low-income families, instituting a tuition plan like Stanford’s isn’t feasible at the University.

It is probable that a great deal more low-income students attend our university opposed to Stanford. With a pipeline to nearby Chicago and some towns in southern Illinois with lower income levels, opening up financial aid at this extreme a magnitude would create opportunities for tens of thousands of potential students.

Of course, with those opportunities would come a great deal of expenditures, and that’s where the problem with such an approach lies.

While many students would certainly be excited about the benefits of a significant increase in financial aid, some understand it would take a huge financial commitment at a time when our financial future is uncertain.

“You could probably attract more people to the University,” said Blake Johnson, freshman in LAS. “I think it could work, but I think it’d cost a lot of money, and we just got our funding cut.”

Johnson is right; the University is already facing a murky economic future following Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposal to cut the school’s funding by as much as 31.5 percent in 2016. As incredible as it would be to offer such a package at the University, the likelihood of such an occurrence is virtually zero.  

All of the economic stress being put on the University is going to force it to spend wisely and save when possible. Tom Hardy, University spokesman, said recently that the University would deal with budget cuts by lessening financial support for staffing, research and future building projects.

While there hopefully won’t be any decline in financial aid as a result of the cuts, there certainly doesn’t seem to be room for an increase. The University simply cannot afford to add another huge expense into the budget, such as paying the tuition of potentially thousands of students.

It should certainly be acknowledged that the University already has some plans in place which help lower-income families with talented prospective students, though the aid pales in comparison to Stanford’s.

In 2005, the University created the Illinois Promise financial aid program. If one’s family income is less than the federal poverty line, tuition comes free with the promise of working a part-time job on campus. The current federal poverty line for a four-person household is $24,250 in annual income. 

Ten years after its inception, the Illinois Promise program is preparing to accept its largest incoming class of students ever. In 2014, 293 new students had their tuition paid through the Illinois Promise. In the Fall 2015 semester, there will be over 1,000 students in the program, new and returning.

The Illinois Promise is an effective way for Illinois to provide support for qualified students with less-fortunate upbringings while avoiding heavy spending. It may not have the extreme benefits of the recent change made at Stanford, but it’s a good substitute.

At a time when tuition is steadily rising and the University’s support could potentially drop off a cliff, there isn’t room in the budget for a major change in financial aid.

Matt is a sophomore in DGS.

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