Page 161 - American_Higher_Education_V4

Basic HTML Version

161
By Susan C. Thomson
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
C
olleen andMark Schloemann marveled at
howmuch more stuff it took to send their first-born,
Greta, off to college this fall than they had required a
generation ago. The computer! The refrigerator!
The money! Greta is a freshman at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the going tuition for
her class is $7,042. “It makes my stomach hurt to think how
we’re going to afford it,” her mother said, noting that as social
workers she and her husband “don’t have a big income.”
The Schloemanns, of downstate Herrin, have one reason
to take heart: If Greta graduates in four years, her tuition
bills will never rise. For her and the university’s other in-
state freshmen, the first-year rate is nailed down for the
next three years as well. The same goes at Illinois’ 11 other
public university campuses, all now in their second year of
guaranteeing incoming Illinois undergraduates the same
tuition for four straight years, or more for bachelors degrees
that take full-time students longer to complete.
It’s the law, passed by the General Assembly two years ago,
one state’s novel reaction to eye-popping tuition hikes seen in
many recession-battered states as they slashed spending for
public higher education in recent years.
In Illinois, between 2002 and 2004, lawmakers cut the
appropriation for university operations by 13.3 percent.
Suddenly tuition increases that had been bumping along at
about the inflation rate breached the ten-percent barrier and,
in a couple of extreme cases, exceeded 30 percent.
Doubling the whammy on the neediest students, the state
simultaneously clipped the budget of its Student Assistance
Commission. This is the agency that, among other things,
administers the state’s Monetary Assistance Program (MAP),
one of the nation’s most generous programs of need-based
grants, available to state residents attending any Illinois
college or university, two- or four-year, public or private.
The agency’s maximum grants, for the lowest-income
students, had long been enough to pay the state’s average
public university tuition. But by 2002 tuition had pulled
ahead. And then, over the next two years, the state cut MAP
money by 7.7 percent, and the average yearly grant fell by 11
percent to $2,355 from $2,646.
In Illinois neither the governor nor the legislature has
any say over howmuch tuition the universities charge or
how they and the student aid commission spend the state
money parceled out to them. But politicians had plenty to
say about the tuition run-up. Campaigning for governor in
2002, U.S. Representative Rod Blagojevich vowed, if elected,
to do something about the situation. At the same time, Kevin
Joyce, then an assistant football coach at Chicago’s St. Xavier
University, was making his first run for the state House of
Fall 2005
“Truth in Tuition”
Illinois’ novel answer to skyrocketing rates
Representatives. Joyce says he made the same promise to
college students working in his campaign.
Both men, Chicago-area Democrats, won.
The next legislative session produced a variety of
proposals—to cap annual tuition increases at, for instance,
five percent or the rate of inflation, or to give legislators veto
power over proposed increases.
Joyce advanced the competing notion of a four-year lock
on tuition, room, board and fees. Although he didn’t realize it
at the time, a plan along those broad lines had been in place
at Western Illinois University
since 2000. The universities were
initially put off by his idea, Joyce
said, but a turning point came
when the University of Illinois—
with roughly half the state’s public
university students and half its
appropriation for university
operations—bought in. Chester
S. Gardner, the university’s vice
president for academic affairs, said
he was persuaded by students’
enthusiasm for the plan and by Joyce’s willingness to be
talked out of including room, board and fees in the fix.
When the plan went into effect a year ago, Illinois
became the first state to embrace a type of pricing system
then in effect at only a handful of U.S. colleges, most of them
small and private. The law bore a politically appealing and
grandiose name—“Truth in Tuition.”
Mark and Colleen Schloemann are pleased that daughter Greta, a freshman at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will pay the same tuition for four years.
Others dislike the policy.
Illinois’ public universities
are in their second year
of guaranteeing incoming
Illinois undergraduates
the same tuition for four
straight years.
Photos by Larry Evans, Black Star, for CrossTalk