Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Truth in tuition

By Rachel Wells

Students remaining in college beyond the traditional four years could see locked-in tuition rates, under a Truth-in-Tuition measure passed by a House committee today. The Senate has already approved the legislation.

The measure would limit fifth- and sixth-year college students’ tuition to that charged during their second year to incoming freshmen. At present, state universities can only hike tuition for incoming freshmen and for anyone staying in school beyond four years. Sophomores, juniors and seniors continue to pay the same amount they did in their first year.

Rep. Daniel Burke, a Chicago Democrat, said SB 3222 is aimed at helping minority students – many of whom, as first generation college students, must take additional courses to catch up with their peers – afford the additional semesters needed to complete their degrees.

University of Illinois Chicago senior Sean Murray told lawmakers the extension was necessary because state budget cuts have lead to fewer faculty members and more difficulty for students trying to enroll in required courses, meaning they end up staying in school longer.

But Rep. Mike Bost, a Murphysboro Republican, said Truth-in-Tuition as it is now creates enough problems – compounded by a lack of state funding – without extending it.

“What ends up happening is, the incoming freshmen quite often have to have a higher increase to make up for where we’re short falling for the seniors who are locked,” Bost said. “To extend it on to six [years] is once again pulling the rug out from underneath our institutions.” He added that the new legislation wouldn’t just be available to those with special needs but also to those who are just plain lazy.

Rep. Richard Myers, a Colchester Republican, said individual universities should be allowed to determine best practices for graduating students in a timely and cost-effective manner. “I think you are trying to apply a broad general application to universities that are very, very different,” he said.

Some universities say they already go above and beyond existing Truth-in-Tuition rules, including Northern Illinois University, which locks in tuition for nine semesters, and Western Illinois University, which has a guaranteed four-year completion plan and applies the existing Truth-in-Tuition law to room and board. Both institutions oppose the new legislation.

“It’s a matter of one size doesn’t fit all,” said David Steelman, director of government relations at Western.


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