U of I Hikes Tuition Nearly 5 percent

The price of a year at the flagship campus at Urbana-Champaign is now more than $24,000

By David Mercer
|  Thursday, Jan 19, 2012  |  Updated 8:37 PM CDT
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U of I Hikes Tuition Nearly 5 percent

Michael Heimlich

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The University of Illinois will raise tuition for incoming students at its three campuses next school year by 4.8 percent, a move that when combined with increases in housing and student fees will push the price of a year at the flagship campus at Urbana-Champaign to more than $24,000.

University trustees set the annual increases in tuition, housing and fees during a meeting Thursday in Chicago at which two also voted against the new contract for new Urbana-Champaign head football coach Tim Beckman, saying the university didn't look hard enough to find a black head coach when it was looking for Ron Zook's replacement.

The tuition increase also drew one "no" vote, from student trustee Kenneth Thomas. And even some of the other board members, who all voted for the increases, raised concerns that the cost of higher education may be locking some would-be students out of the university, particularly students from middle-class backgrounds whose families may not be able to afford the burden on their own but make too much money to qualify for financial aid.

University financial officials, though, stressed the need for more money, given the state government's poor financial position and the $324 million the state owes the university but can't afford to pay.

The tuition increase was based on a policy enacted last year to hold increases to no more than the rate of inflation, and the increase approved Thursday would stick to that policy when spread over the four years it will apply. State law guarantees first-year students at public universities that their tuition won't increase for four years.

"We'd like to continue our current policy, which addresses the importance of accessibility," university President Michael Hogan said. "Much depends on the future of state funding, which continues to look problematic."

Only one of the three student trustees is allowed to vote, but Thomas said he spoke for all three when he complained the tuition increase should have come with a larger boost in financial aid.

"I'm going to have to vote no," he said.

University Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr said the university expects to have about $191 million in grants and other financial aid to offer students next school year, an increase of about 4.4 percent. But trustees acknowledged that little if any of that money was available for students whose families earn more than $70,000 a year.

Under the approved increases, annual undergraduate tuition at Urbana-Champaign would increase by $532 to $11,636. At the Chicago campus, tuition would increase by $468 to $10,232. In Springfield, the university's smallest campus, the cost in would increase $420 a year to $9,090.

Housing costs would go up $236 a year to $9,688 in Urbana-Champaign and $198 a year to $10,060 in Chicago. In Springfield, the increase would be $200 a year to $9,870. Student fees also increased.

In addition, student fees would rise to $2,882 a year at Urbana-Champaign, $2,896 in Chicago and $1,783 in Springfield.

In all, the average annual cost of a year at the university will rise to $24,206 in Urbana-Champaign, $21,162 in Chicago and, Springfield, $20,743.

"We are proposing a tuition increase that's no more, no less than the rate of inflation," Knorr told trustees before they voted. "I guess we always have to have in the back of our minds that the state's situation is very precarious."

Illinois' state government has a backlog of $8.5 billion in unpaid bills as it tries to wrestle with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Trustee Timothy Koritz said before the vote that, while pleased tuition would increase no more than the rate of inflation, he worried that the university was both pricing itself off the wish lists of some students and denying access to others who can't afford the cost but come from families with incomes too high to qualify for most financial aid.

"As price goes up, our competitiveness goes down; kids can get more bang for their buck elsewhere," he said. "But more importantly, every time the price goes up, we disenfranchise some kid's chance of going to college."

Trustees approved the five-year, $9 million contract that Beckman has agreed to as the new head football coach at the Urbana-Champaign campus, but two trustees, Lawrence Oliver and James Montgomery, voted no after Oliver accused the university of not trying hard enough to find a black head coach. Illinois' flagship campus has never had a black head football or men's basketball coach.

"In my mind, this is a missed opportunity," Oliver said, adding that doesn't believe the situation will change unless the university makes finding a black head coach a stated priority.

Oliver also complained that trustees are only asked consider coaches' contracts after the new hires have been publicly introduced, had their deals announced and hired staffs of assistant coaches. Beckman finished hiring his staff earlier this week.

Beckman was hired late last year after Zook was fired.

Also Thursday, trustees reappointed Christopher Kennedy as their chairman.

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