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Northwestern Illinois University’s tuition jumped 29 percent
this year to make up for several years of underfinancing, says
Vice President Mark Wilcockson.
Illinois public higher
education is “on
a precipice,” said
Thomas Lamont,
executive director
of the Illinois
Board of Higher
Education. “We’ve
got to be careful we
don’t fall off.”
respectable B average but a lowly D for affordability. In a
report that awarded no A’s in that department and two-thirds
of the states a flat-out F, it could have been far worse.
Nobody is predicting that Illinois will regain its gold
star for affordability any time soon. Certainly not Thomas
Lamont. A lawyer by profession now filling in as executive
director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, he takes a
dim view of the situation. It is also a relatively long and inside
view, the result of his having served five years on the higher
education board and 13 as a trustee of the University of
Illinois, some of those years simultaneously, before agreeing a
year ago to take this job on a temporary basis.
To Lamont’s thinking, this year’s level state funding is just
another take-away in sheep’s clothing. “It’s not level funding
for the institutions,” he said. “In reality their fixed costs
certainly haven’t remained level. Be it energy, be it salary,
be it administrative costs, they creep up. To suggest this can
continue much longer, and you won’t eventually affect the
quality (of education) doesn’t stand to reason.” Illinois public
higher education is “on a precipice,” he added. “We’ve got to
be careful we don’t fall off.”
James L. Kaplan, a Chicago lawyer and chairman of the
Illinois Board of Higher Education, said Lamont overstates
the case, that the state’s seeming fall from public higher
education grace is “not that dramatic.” He said the state board
and the universities have significantly reduced overhead and
improved productivity, and that the prospects for funding
are “semi-favorable.” “We’re coming through (financial hard
times) with minimal impact on students, except for tuition,”
he said.
Lamont’s contract is due to run out in November. His
successor will be the fourth person to sit in
the board’s executive director’s chair in less
than four years.
Representative Joyce said he and all
members, both Democrats and Republicans,
of the House higher education committee
add up to a determined pro-higher
education coalition. “You’re not going to get
the cuts you got before,” he said. Senator Ed
Maloney—another Chicago-area Democrat,
who shares home office space with Joyce and
is the new chairman of the Senate higher
education committee—can also be counted
on, Joyce added.
Two years after passing the tuition law,
Illinois still is the only state to legislate
against escalating tuition bills in this way.
Joyce is not rushing to judgment. “Five years
fromwhen this became law, that’s when
we have to look at it to see if it’s successful,”
he said. “If nothing else, we’ve created an awareness that
universities can’t just throw their costs onto the student. [The
law] has also created an awareness in the legislature that if the
schools aren’t funded properly, they have to raise tuition.”
In time, universities and students alike will be able to
gauge the law’s success by whether they made or lost money
on it, with one side’s gain likely to be the other’s loss. Sandy
Baum, professor of economics at Skidmore College in
Saratoga, New York, and an expert on college costs, sees the
universities as having the upper hand. “It’s hard to imagine
that students would be paying less than they ordinarily
would,” she said. For a rough idea, she said, students could
compare their four years of identical tuition payments with
what students on the continuing rate paid during that same
time.
For now, the Schloemanns are grateful that daughter
Greta’s rate is safely locked in, along with loans to ease some
of the immediate fiscal pain. But there’s more to come—son
Max, a high school senior, also is eyeing the University of
Illinois. This much the family can count on: His tuition will
be higher than his sister’s.
u
Susan C. Thomson is a former higher education reporter for
the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
.