Wheeler Says U of I System Tuition Freeze Good, But More Needed to End Brain Drain

State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) said it is good news that the University of Illinois (U of I) System plans to extend its current in-state tuition freeze for another year, but more is needed.

“The cost of a public university education has risen 200 percent across the country in the past two decades,” said Wheeler. “Illinois students have felt these rising costs more than our neighboring states and it’s caused a dramatic brain drain as students have chosen to leave Illinois. I’m pleased the U of I System is responding to the problem by continuing their in-state tuition freeze, but considering the dramatic increase in college costs, more has to be done.”

The Board of Trustees for the U of I System, which consists of universities in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, is expected to vote on the undergraduate in-state tuition freeze proposal next week. President Tim Killeen said the tuition freeze, begun in the fall of 2014, has increased enrollment by 6.6 percent. While undergraduate in-state tuition will be frozen, undergraduate mandatory fees and room-and-board rates will not be frozen, nor will graduate and professional program tuition.

An analysis by U.S. News and World Report shows in-state tuition and fees at four-year public universities has increased 237 percent between 1997 and 2017. This increase has far outpaced inflation in the consumer price index for the same period, which increased by only 52.7 percent.

One of the major cost drivers causing this dramatic cost increase at universities is the exceptional growth of administrative positions in higher education. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2005 and 2015, full-time administrative positions at Illinois’ public universities increased by 26 percent, while full-time instruction staff only increased by 2.1 percent. Meanwhile, full-time student enrollment actually fell by 2.9 percent between 2005 and 2015.

State budget cuts are also frequently cited as a reason for the rapid growth of tuition and fees for students. However, reports from the Illinois General Assembly and data from the Illinois Board of Education show otherwise. Although state funding has fallen by 7 percent over the last decade, increases in tuition and fee revenue has offset state funding loses and actually increased public university revenue by 5 percent. Much of the revenue has then been used to fund the growth of administrative bureaucracy.

“If we are serious about ending the export of our brightest young minds to other states, then we need to recognize the current structure of Illinois’ public universities must change to curb student costs,” said Wheeler. “This means recognizing we need to stop the explosion of costly administrative positions and either directly reduce the cost to students or use those funds to improve relevant, real-world degree instruction. We also need to pursue steps toward university consolidation, institute and expand reciprocal programs between universities and community colleges, and expand college credit courses for high school students.”

Wheeler noted a recent proposal by Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno to restructure the university away from its current department model as a good step she hopes other universities will look into. Montemagno said his proposal could reduce costs by as much as $2.3 million.

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