U of I recommends no base tuition increase for in-state freshmen

Piggy bank next to a graduation cap and diploma

In-state University of Illinois freshmen would see no increase in base tuition next fall for the first time in more than two decades under a proposal reviewed Monday by the Board of Trustees’ Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee.

The tuition proposal will go to the full board at its Jan. 15 meeting in Chicago, along with recommended increases in student fees and housing on the university’s three campuses for the 2015-16 academic year.

Under the proposal, Illinois-resident freshmen would pay no increase in the general tuition rate on the university’s three campuses. Tuition differentials in five academic units on the Chicago campus would increase modestly, but there would be no differential increases for other Chicago units or in any units on the Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses.

For non-Illinois residents, base tuition rates would increase by an inflation-related 2 percent.

If approved, incoming in-state freshmen would pay no base tuition increase for the first time since 1993-94 and the rate would remain unchanged for four years under the state’s guaranteed tuition law. The tuition guarantee was launched in 2004 to help students and families plan for the cost of a public university education by fixing tuition rates for the four years required to complete most undergraduate degree programs.

“Student affordability is a top priority and we are committed to ensuring that costs are not a barrier to the lifelong opportunities that are provided by an education at the University of Illinois,” said President Robert Easter.

Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs, said holding rates to 2014-15 levels will help keep the university competitive with peer institutions as it seeks to recruit top students. He said high tuition is a special burden for middle-class Illinois students whose family incomes are not low enough to qualify for federal or state financial aid, but not high enough to cover costs on their own.

Tuition increases at the U of I have been trending downward. The hold-the-line tuition proposal follows two straight years of 1.7 percent increases that tracked with the rate of inflation and were the smallest increases in nearly two decades.

Those increases were approved under an inflation-neutral tuition-setting policy enacted by trustees in 2011 that aims to hold down student costs by limiting increases to cost-of-living indices or below, barring significant reductions in state funding or other university support.

Under the 2015 proposal, base tuition for in-state students next fall would match rates for the 2014-15 academic year – $12,036 a year in Urbana-Champaign, $10,584 in Chicago and $9,405 in Springfield. On the Chicago campus, tuition differentials would increase by $50 to $170 a year for all freshmen enrolled in business administration, engineering, nursing, movement sciences/kinesiology and health information management. There would be no change in differentials for other Chicago academic units or on the Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses. Differentials cover the additional costs of providing the highest-quality education in selected areas of study.

Over the last decade, the university has ramped up internal efforts to protect the most financially vulnerable students, increasing institutional financial aid more than fourfold to $84 million annually. Through state, federal, university and donor-provided financial aid, half of undergraduates pay less than full sticker price across its three campuses.

Officials said the university hopes to hold future tuition increases to the rate of inflation or below, but cautioned that significant reductions in state funding and other factors could lead to larger increases.

In addition to promoting affordability, the university’s tuition-setting policy calls for the board to lock in rates early in the year rather than in the spring. By setting tuition in January, trustees aim to make the planning process easier on families and allow more time to firm up financial aid.

The committee also reviewed proposed adjustments to student fees and room-and-board rates for the 2015-16 academic year.

Proposed student fees exclude student health insurance rates, which are typically established in March. Fees considered by the committee, and later by the full board, help fund costs such as operating campus recreational facilities, student unions, career services, athletics, counseling centers and libraries, and help with facility maintenance, renovations and utilities.

Nationally, for the 2013-14 academic year, tuition-and-fees rose by an average 2.9 percent at the nation’s four-year public colleges and by 3.7 percent at private, nonprofit four-year colleges, based on the latest survey by the College Board, a nonprofit association representing U.S. colleges and universities.