By Shannon Vicic
The university is consistently ranked as one of the best educational buys in the nation. But its bargain price is threatening the competitiveness of its academic programs, administrators say.
At last week's meeting of the UI Board of Trustees in Urbana, administrators proposed increasing tuition at the beginning of the 1997-98 academic year.
Sylvia Manning, UI vice president for academic affairs, and the provosts of the university's three campuses made the case for the tuition hike, which the board will vote on at its regular meeting next month. The tuition hike would help the university meet general revenue needs as well as the increasing financial requirements of certain graduate/professional programs.
If the board approves the increase, tuition would be increased at all of the university's campuses. However, the percentage of those increases would vary according to the financial needs of the separate campuses.
According to Manning, money raised by the tuition increase would help replace lost financial support from the state. Since 1980, state funding for the university has decreased $1,015 per student against inflation.
At the Urbana-Champaign campus, the proposal would increase undergraduate and graduate tuition by 5 percent. The undergraduate increase, which adds up to $158 per student per year, would amount to an extra individual cost of $5 per week, Manning said.
Larry Faulkner, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, reported that the money raised from the undergraduate tuition increase at Urbana-Champaign would be used for three purposes:
--To implement the revised general education requirements. By Senate action in 1989, the campus adopted a strengthened set of general education requirements. Funds from the 1997-98 undergraduate tuition hike would pay for the remaining two elements of those requirements -- an increase of the foreign language requirement to three semesters and the institution of a second required course in quantitative reasoning.
--To improve the learning environment on campus. The Discovery Program, which puts first-year students in small classes with senior faculty members, would be expanded so that it would be available to all first-year students. In addition, the general tuition increase would allow the campus to continue the progress made in 1996-97 in reducing the sizes of sections in large courses.
--To expand the use of instructional technology. The additional tuition funds would allow for the expansion of computer classrooms and instructional laboratories, continued upgrading of the modem pool, network support in colleges and departments, and classroom networking.
Along with the 5 percent tuition increase, the proposal would impose an additional $500 hike on two graduate/professional programs on the Urbana-Champaign campus -- the College of Law's J.D. program and the master's in library and information science.
The proposed hike for the College of Law is part of its five-year development plan, which calls for an overall $2,500 increase in tuition, to be realized over five years through annual increments of $500. The college is in the second year of that plan, which has thus far resulted in the expansion of the faculty and the creation of a clinical program.
For the master's in library and information science, the additional recurring funds would be used for the continuous upgrade of equipment. Library and information science is a rapidly changing field that is critically dependent on up-to-date technology to stay competitive, Faulkner said. In 1994, students in the program emphasized the need for access to the latest technology by supporting a "technology fee" in an advisory vote. Even with the proposed tuition increase, the program would continue to have tuition among the lowest of library and information science programs nationally, he said.
The 5 percent undergraduate tuition increase at the Urbana-Champaign campus is the largest general undergraduate increase among all the UI campuses. At the Chicago campus, undergraduate and graduate tuition each would be increased 3 percent. However, the dentistry and nursing programs at that campus would see additional academic year increases of 13 percent and $1,000 respectively. In Springfield, undergraduate tuition would go up 3.2 percent, while graduate tuition would go up 6 percent to accommodate the higher cost of graduate instruction.
During the tuition hike presentation, Manning highlighted the difference between the total cost, or "sticker price," of undergraduate tuition, and what students actually pay. A high percentage of students at all campuses receive state and federal student grants, as well as other forms of financial aid, which reduce the amount of tuition they pay. The Monetary Award Program [MAP] in Illinois is the second largest state grant program in the nation.
Trustee William Engelbrecht, R-Henry, asked Manning for percentages that would show the specific breakdown of financial aid that students in varying financial brackets receive.
The university has a perception problem when it comes to tuition increases, Engelbrecht said. The public perception is that the cost of tuition is high and getting higher all the time, but the public doesn't consider the fact that "many, many students go to college for far less [than the price of tuition]," he said.
UI President James Stukel acknowledged the problem, adding that other public universities face a similar dilemma, in part because media coverage typically emphasizes tuition hikes rather than the amount that students actually pay to attend college once their financial aid is calculated.
"I talk about this problem all the time. I'm here to tell you that the media will not listen to this argument. Locally, statewide and nationally, this argument falls on deaf ears," Stukel said.
The university has been conservative in the tuition increases it has instituted over the years, Faulkner said. From 1990 to 1997, UIUC raised tuition and fees by the lowest percentage of all the Big Ten universities. Among a group of 21 Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) peer institutions, UIUC ranked 20th in its percentage of tuition and fee increases.
When asked whether this conservative approach was threatening the university's competitiveness, Faulkner said, "there's no question that our competitiveness has been threatened. But at the same time, accessiblity and cost are factors in the public mind."
Trustee Judith Calder, D-Glencoe, noted that it may be time to send a message that the university "cannot continue to underprice its product and underpay faculty." Engelbrecht agreed, adding that student accessibility isn't important if the university cannot maintain the quality of its academic programs. "First and foremost, this must be a great university."
Trustee Susan Gravenhorst, R-Lake Bluff, suggested that it might be a good time for the administrators to consider presenting an alternative proposal, one which would give the board the opportunity to vote on a larger tuition increase.
But President Stukel asked the board to stick with the proposal on the table and wait until the following year to consider a larger increase.
Although few trustees objected to the proposed increase, Trustee Ada Lopez, D-Chicago, said that the university should try to shift its focus away from raising tuition and instead look for other alternatives that would improve educational quality. And Springfield Student Trustee, Neil Malone, noted that many students on that campus attend the university part-time, which makes them ineligible for financial aid. "For them, the sticker price is the full price."
In conjunction with the tuition-hike proposal, Craig Bazzani, vice president for business and finance, also presented a proposal to raise student fees, housing prices,and health insurance.
Student fees would increase at the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses to keep pace with inflation. (Due to financial restructuring, Springfield fees would remain the same in FY 1998.) Students at UIC would pay an additional 3.9 percent while students at UIUC would pay an additional 3.6 percent in fees, Bazzani said. The price difference between the proposed student fee increases at the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses stems from the higher construction costs and interest rates at the time many buildings at the Chicago campus were constructed, as well as the smaller population of that campus.
Housing prices would increase at all three campuses -- 3.3 percent at Urbana-Champaign, 1.9 percent at Springfield (for a four bedroom apartment with no meal plan) and 2.5 percent at Chicago.
It is too early to determine how much student health insurance will increase in 1997-98; health insurance rates will be determined in the spring, Bazzani said.
Bazzani also warned board members to expect significant additional increases in student fees and housing prices beginning in 1999, because of debt from renovation/construction projects already financed through bond issues. Fees should increase $11-12 per semester and housing should increase $50 per academic year in 1999 because of the costs of the renovations of the Student Services Building Annex as well as the Intramural Physical Education Building pool, and fees should increase another $14 per semester in 2000, to pay for the renovation of the Assembly Hall.
In other business, Robert Todd, associate vice president for administration and human resources, presented an overview of the UIUC master plan. The master plan, completed in 1989, was created to provide administrators with a basis for making decisions about future construction projects. The master plan encompasses the main campus area, which extends north to University Avenue and south to St. Mary's Road. According to Todd, if the plan were executed, it would create 30 percent more green space on campus because the construction of additional parking structures would take the place of several existing parking lots.
The board approved the award of contracts for Phase I of the exterior pool repair and mechanical systems upgrades for the Intramural Physical Education Building in Urbana.