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“As if we were lying before!” scoffedWalter V. Wendler,
chancellor of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His
assessment of the law is brief and blunt: “I do not like it.”
He described the plan as, to some extent, an overreaction to
tuition increases that, at SIU-Carbondale anyway, were made
all the more necessary by years of keeping the lid on. “We’re
trying to build a research university,” he said. “The costs are
rising. We have lost ground, and one of the reasons is we’ve
been so conscious of keeping the costs low.”
David Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education
at the University of Virginia, says the Illinois plan has the
effect of transferring the tuition risk from students and their
families to the universities. W. Randall Kangas, the University
of Illinois’ assistant vice president for administration and
budget, conceded it’s “a big risk” for the university. Wendler
cited the recent blind-siding spike in gasoline prices to
illustrate just how risky the new, longer-range forecasts can
be. “Anybody that provides a good or service wants to set
costs as close as possible to the time the good or service is
delivered,” he explained.
Wendler is also concerned that, because the universities’
wiggle room on tuition increasingly comes down to
freshmen, they will have to pay “a disproportionate share” of
unforeseen budget shortfalls. Nobody disputes that assertion
or denies that guaranteed tuition is, almost of necessity,
front-loaded, with underclassmen paying more than their
fair share of costs.
Any such plan “generally means there’s going to be a
bigger increase up-front,” said Paul Lingenfelter, executive
director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers
association. But, he added, “Just like with an insurance policy,
you pay for risk protection.”
The University of Illinois’ Gardner also used the insurance
analogy, saying students are paying a premium for their
educations in their first couple of years so that they’ll never
have to pay more, and the university “can be certain we have
the money to pay for their education in the last two years.”
Gardner admitted that students who drop out of school after
just two years or less will have overpaid. And they won’t get
refunds.
Sylvia Manning, chancellor of the University of Illinois at
Chicago, likens guaranteed tuition to a fixed-rate mortgage,
costlier than the variable-rate kind at the outset but with the
attractive advantage of predictability. “I think the primary
benefit of it is peace of mind,” she said. For President Al
Goldfarb of Western Illinois University, now in its seventh
year of guaranteeing student costs, the beauty of the plan is
the certainty it provides parents. “They would like to know
what they have to pay,” he said. “They don’t want to be
surprised later.”
That is exactly the point, according to parent Colleen
Schloemann, who said the guarantee is “really nice for
parents,” making it easier for them to budget for college
expenses.
With its four-year time horizon, the tuition plan is tailor-
made for students like Greta Schloemann at places like
Urbana-Champaign, where most students live on campus,
study full-time and have a shot at graduating in four years.
But for those who stretch out their college careers, sticker
shock awaits. “Once the guarantee expires, you pay the non-
guaranteed rate, which increases year to year,” said Gardner.
“That could discourage students from continuing. On the
other hand it could also encourage some students to finish in
four years.”
Therein lies an eventual dilemma for the 45 percent of
the 12,000 students at Northeastern Illinois University, in
Chicago, who take classes part-time. They, too, get the four-
year tuition pledge, as do transfer students. Katrina Berry, 46,
falls into both categories. An administrative assistant in an
architect’s office, she enrolled at Northeastern part-time last
year after a 25-year break from college.
Because she entered with an associate’s degree that gave
her a leg up in credits, Berry expects to be able to finish
her bachelor’s degree before her guarantee expires in 2008.
As for students who can’t beat their tuition-guarantee time
clocks, “We hope they see that education is a great enough
benefit that they will keep coming,” said Mark Wilcockson,
vice president for administration and finance at the non-
residential campus in Chicago.
Residential campuses, meanwhile, continue to have a
free hand to raise room and board, which already costs as
much as, or more than, tuition in many cases. Fees—those
miscellaneous add-ons for items like healthcare, on-campus
“We’re trying to build a research university,” and “Truth in Tuition” is not helpful,
says Walter V. Wendler, chancellor of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
“We’re coming through (financial
hard times) with minimal impact on
students, except for tuition.”
—James L. Kaplan, chairman of the
Illinois Board of Higher Education