24.1.16

DEALING WITH LEGISLATIVE STINGINESS.

Eight years ago, the trustees at Northern Illinois University had to raise tuitions by what the press characterized as a 9.5 percent increase.
Tuition increases are decided by balancing the needs of the school with a commitment to affordability, said Eddie Williams, NIU's executive vice president of business and finance and chief of operations. He noted that 9.5 percent was the lowest proposed increase among other state universities in Illinois. And it should be the only time the cohort of students entering in the fall see a tuition hike, because of the state's Truth in Tuition law. Started in 2003, it freezes the tuition rate of an incoming freshman at a public university for the four years of his or her education. “To the public, a 9.5 percent tuition increase is a 9.5 percent tuition increase,” NIU President John Peters said. “It is, but it isn't. For the mom and dad sending a kid to school, for those paying for their own education, they can plan, at a fixed rate, the cost of a four-year education.”
Mr Williams and Mr Peters have since left the university, but the battles with the legislature go on. As do the fee increases that provide revenues despite the Truth in Tuition law. Football has to get its cut. And printing. And parking.
NIU officials involved in budget planning have to estimate how much money the school should have from tuition dollars - and they might not always know all of the needs or how much the state will provide when they're hammering out a spending plan. Most local governments that receive funding from the state are already cautious as they plan their budgets for the 2009 Fiscal Year, which begins July 1, because they are unsure of how much money they will get from the state. The General Assembly passed a spending plan last weekend - but it was about $2 billion short on the revenue needed to pay for it, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said. So while the budget calls for NIU to receive about $2.2 million more next year than it did in the fiscal year that ends June 30, it's unknown if it will materialize. It adds to the tuition quandary. Truth in Tuition is good public policy, Williams said - if the state provides the funds it promises. Trustee John Butler questioned the logic behind the Truth in Tuition law, noting the state does not provide the support it has promised.
Mr Blagojevich is in prison. And the state has not yet passed an appropriation for the fiscal year that began last July.

Meanwhile the university continues its "program prioritzation", the latest way to close out programs.

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