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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 06:34 pm

Truth about rising tuition

College costs rise under tuition freeze law

Just about everyone applauded the enactment of Illinois’ so-called truth-in-tuition law. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who signed the legislation in July 2003, said the bill, which freezes freshman tuition rates for four years, would stabilize the cost of education at state universities. The bill’s author, state Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Worth, believed that college-bound students and their families appreciated the opportunity to anticipate costs.

Now an analysis of college funding and tuition conducted by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows that the well-intentioned legislation may have yielded some unintended consequences.

Published in December and released last week, the CGFA study reveals that Illinois public university tuitions have risen an average of 12 percent per year since 2003, when the tuition freeze law went into effect. In the previous five years, however, tuition costs grew just 5.4 percent.

“Due to this law, public universities have to account for four years worth of inflation and other potential increases in cost when setting tuition rates,” the report concludes.

Among those potential increases is continued loss of state funding. In Illinois, which faces one of the most severe budget shortfalls in the nation, higher education appropriations have shrunk 7 percent a year over the past 5 years.

Illinois also has the 6th highest tuition rate at four-year public universities, averaging over $8,000 per year, compared to the national average of $5,685. However, the state spends $7,000 per full-time student, which places Illinois at 26th – just below the national average.

Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says although the intentions behind tuition guarantee policies are laudable, they require that more funding needs come from the state and other sources.

“It’s certainly a good public relations practice. But in the long run it’s going to cost students and families more,” Hurley says.

The release of CGFA’s report coincides with the announcement that tuition and room will increase at all three of University of Illinois’ campuses. In Springfield, undergraduate fees for 2010 will see a 15 percent increase, to $806 per semester, from the current rate of $699 per semester.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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