U of Illinois raises tuition by 1.7 percent

CHAMPAIGN – Tuition for new in-state University of Illinois undergraduate students this fall will increase by 1.7 percent under a plan approved Thursday, marking the smallest tuition hike at the university in almost 20 years.

When combined with coming increases in room and board and fees, though, the cost of a year of college for students living on campus will rise to almost $24,729 at the flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign (up 2.1 percent), $23,615 in Chicago (up 1.8 percent) and $21,489 in Springfield (an increase of 3.6 percent).

The smaller tuition increase matches the rate of inflation for this year, Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre told trustees during a meeting in Chicago. He said it is designed to balance the need for more revenue to pay top professors and other costs to draw good students.

"We want to recruit the highest class of students to the university, which certainly argues for keeping tuition increases to a minimum," Pierre told trustees.

Undergraduate tuition at Urbana-Champaign will increase $198 to $11,834 a year. Chicago campus undergraduates will see an increase of $174 to $10,406. And tuition in Springfield will increase $157.50 to $9,247.50.

Trustees unanimously approved the plan without immediate comment, but university President Robert Easter said in a statement cost-savings programs over the past few years allowed the school to raise tuition by a smaller amount in spite of dwindling state support. Easter said the university's role as a land-grant institution makes it important that tuition remain affordable for as many people in the state as possible.

"Last year, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created land-grant universities like the U of I and opened the doors of higher education to the children of all social classes," Easter said. "It helped fuel the most dramatic social and technological advances in our nation's history, and it is critical that we ensure those same opportunities for new generations of students."

Undergraduate tuition at Urbana-Champaign will increase $198 to $11,834 a year. Chicago campus undergraduates will see an increase of $174 to $10,406. And tuition in Springfield will increase $157.50 to $9,247.50.

Increases won't affect current students. State law guarantees students at public universities will pay the same tuition for four years.

The coming increase is the smallest in terms of percentage since 1994. Recent increases have been as high as 9.5 percent as the university complained that state support was dropping off and becoming less reliable.

As it struggles with a big budget deficit, the state typically runs months behind on distributing money to universities and other state-supported institutions. The state currently owes the university $502 million in overdue payments for this fiscal year, three-quarters of the school's appropriation for the year, university comptroller Walter Knorr said Thursday.

Trustees also raised the price of room and board by 3 percent to $9,979 a year at Urbana-Champaign, 2 percent to $10,261 in Chicago and 4.9 percent $10,350 in Springfield. And fees were raised less than 2 percent in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago, to $2,916 and $2,948, respectively. Fees for incoming students in Springfield will increase 6.1 percent to $1,892 a year.

Pierre noted the university faces other financial uncertainties during the period the tuition increase covers, such as the possibility of new pension-related expenses as the state considers ways of covering what are now many billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities. But, when asked by trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy, Pierre said the university should be able to handle anything short of a financial catastrophe.

"We're going to embrace a period of risk," Kennedy said after hearing from Pierre, "but it's better that we embrace the risk rather than individual families."

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald also joined the board Thursday. Fitzgerald was appointed earlier this month by Gov. Pat Quinn.

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