The state’s so-called “truth in tuition” law has accomplished one goal, and miserably failed at another, in the 10 years it has been in existence.
As outlined in Springfield Bureau Chief Kurt Erickson’s story in Sunday’s Pantagraph, the bill signed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich locked in tuition rates for a student’s four years at a state college or university.
“By doing this, we can help make college affordable for Illinois families,” Blagojevich, now serving a federal prison term, said at the time.
The good part about the program is it has made it easier for students and families to plan their college finances. Students entering as freshman know the major costs of college — tuition, fees and room and board — will not change dramatically for the next four years. That makes planning college financing a lot easier and students don’t have to worry about tuition and fee increases midway through their college careers.
But the law has not made college more affordable. Due to a host of circumstances, a college education is more expensive than it was 10 years ago.
Much of the increase in tuition, especially in Illinois, is due to a decrease in state funding. According to a 2010 report for Illinois Board of Higher Education, state support for colleges and universities and student financial aid has dropped $440 million in inflation-adjusted dollars over the preceding 15 years.
In 1996, nearly 75 percent of the dollars spent by public universities came from the state. The amount has dropped to about 47 percent, meaning tuition covers about 53 percent of university expenses.
That is part of the reason tuition has skyrocketed in recent years. Since the law was enacted, tuition costs have nearly doubled at Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University, and have risen nearly 80 percent at Eastern Illinois University.
Rising tuition costs aren’t an Illinois-only problem. According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 31 percent more than the rate of inflation from 2003 to 2008 and another 27 percent between 2008 and 2013.
That adds up to a bad situation for Illinois students, parents and taxpayers. Taxpayers, who include students and their parents, are paying more in taxes, but less money is going to fund public universities and colleges. The result is tuition and fees have increased, putting a greater strain on the finances of students and parents.
On the other hand, it appears the era of large tuition increases may be coming to an end. Many colleges and universities have set their latest tuition increases at a lower rate than in previous years. States also are starting to increase the amount of money going to colleges and universities, although a significant change in Illinois won’t occur until pension reform and the state’s other budget problems are addressed.
The law approved 10 years ago has worked to help students and families with budgeting and planning. But other decisions by Blagojevich and subsequent state leaders have placed more, not less, of the burden for financing a college education on students and their families.