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Original Article:
“Truth in Tuition” (fall 2005)


Tuitions and Fees Rising in Illinois
February 2008

SINCE THE GUARANTEED four-year tuition, or “Truth in Tuition,” plan was adopted four years ago, undergraduate costs at Illinois’ 12 public universities have been increasing steadily.

“The only ‘truth’ is that tuition keeps rising,” a former state education official said.

Charges (tuition plus mandatory fees) for entering freshmen at the University of Illinois flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign jumped from $7,010 in the 2004-05 academic year to $11,130 in 2007-08, the Illinois Board of Higher Education reported. At Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, the price increased from $5,521 to $8,893.

Resident undergraduate tuition at Urbana-Champaign is fifth highest among the 50 state flagship campuses, according to the annual survey by the Washington (state) Higher Education Coordinating Board. Charges at Illinois comprehensive colleges and universities are fourth highest in the nation.

Community college tuition and mandatory fee charges remain modest, averaging slightly more than $2,300 per year.

A student who enrolled at the Urbana-Champaign campus in fall 2004, when the “truth” plan began, paid $6,460 per year, a rate that would remain the same for eight semesters. But the same student, entering in fall 2007, paid $8,440, or $7,290 more over four years.

The plan guarantees that tuition is fixed for eight consecutive semesters. But many entering freshmen at Illinois public institutions do not graduate in four years or even in five or six. The four-year graduation rate at Urbana-Champaign is 62.5 percent, according to campus officials. The five-year graduation rate is 79.2 percent; the six-year rate is 81.9 percent. The six-year graduation rate at Illinois State University is 63.3 percent. At Chicago State University it is only 15.8 percent.

Each campus decides how much to charge students for an extra year or two. Many have chosen to charge students at the same rate they would have paid had they entered in 2005-06, the second year of the new policy.

In addition, there have been sharp increases in mandatory fees, which are not covered by Truth in Tuition, which now run as high as $1,987 at Carbondale and $2,962 at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

At Urbana-Champaign there are seven mandatory fees for all undergraduates, even more for those majoring in agriculture, business, engineering and some other fields. These include not only the usual charges for health services and the student union but also an “academic facilities maintenance fund assessment,” to repair and maintain academic buildings. Campus officials say this is needed because the state has provided no capital budget for several years.

The tuition and fee increases have caused grumbling among parents and others who pay college bills. When Greta Schloemann of Herrin, in downstate Illinois, entered Urbana-Champaign as a freshman in fall 2005, her parents paid tuition of $6,460—a rate that has remained the same. Had she entered in fall 2007, the charge would have been $7,708. However, required fees have increased from $1,442 to $2,174 in the same time period.

Colleen Schloemann, Greta’s mother, said, “I still think it (Truth in Tuition) is a good idea because it helps families with their budgeting, but the fees are quite high and they keep going up.”

After one semester at Urbana-Champaign, Greta’s younger brother Max transferred to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where fees increased from $1,276 in 2004-05 to $2,551 in 2007-08. “Max’s total cost is higher now than if he had stayed at Urbana,” Colleen Schloemann said.

But Campus administrators say they have received few complaints about the rising costs. “I don’t hear lots of noise about tuition,” said W. Randall Kangas, assistant vice president for budgeting and planning for the three-campus University of Illinois system. “What I hear is complaining that ‘I can’t get my kid in.’”

Kangas and other campus officials argue that sharp tuition and fee increases are needed because of the decline in state support. Since the 2004 fiscal year, state appropriations for public higher education have increased only one or two percent a year, well below the rate of inflation.

So far, the steep tuition and fee increases have encountered little opposition from Illinois legislators. “They know they haven’t been funding the institutions adequately, and they hope by letting the campuses raise tuition as much as they want, that will keep them happy,” said a veteran observer of the state’s educational politics.

Truth in Tuition is proving to be a headache for campus budget officers, who must decide how much to charge students, depending on the year they enrolled, their academic program, whether they are covered by “truth” or not, and other factors.

“This has been something of a nightmare for our student accounts office,” said Barbara Blake, budget officer at Illinois State University. “What is the retention rate going to be? How many students are taking five or six years to finish? Projecting what student rates should be, and what our revenues are going to be, is proving to be very difficult.”

Said a budget officer at Northern Illinois University, “It’s very difficult, but it’s the law and we’re trying to follow it.”

Despite the problems, Truth in Tuition is not likely to disappear, not unless the state’s fiscal condition improves markedly.

“I do think they (those who pay college bills) wind up paying more than they would have under the old tuition approach,” said Sue Kleeman, director of research, planning and policy analysis at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. “But people are willing to pay for certainty.”

—William Trombley

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