Illinois Enacts Plan to Freeze Tuition Rates at Its Colleges

By KAREN W. ARENSON
New York Times
July 25, 2003

A new law in Illinois will freeze tuition for public university students at the level they pay when they enter as freshmen.

While some individual colleges, like Western Illinois University and Pace University in New York, have adopted similar plans, Illinois is the first state to try the approach for its public colleges, said Travis Reindl, director of state policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The law, called Truth in Tuition, will take effect at the state's nine public colleges and universities in the 2004-2005 academic year.

"The dream of a college education is something we must encourage, not discourage," Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said on Tuesday when he signed the legislation. "Today we are doing our part to keep that dream alive."

The plan comes as financially squeezed colleges in many states have raised tuition significantly to cover rising costs and to make up for cuts in state financial support. In reaction, some federal policy makers as well as some in Illinois and other states have begun to discuss ways to hold down those increases.

"Some of the policy makers are saying they are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more," Mr. Reindl said.

He said the Illinois plan was a new and largely untested step in tuition policy. "The underlying desire is a good one: to put predictability and stability into setting tuition," he added. "The question is how effective it will be."

State officials said that average tuition and fees at Illinois public universities had more than doubled in a decade, rising faster than the rate of inflation. This year, tuition will rise 5 percent at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an average of 14 percent for all the state's public universities. Annual tuition at the University of Illinois this fall will be $5,568.

College officials said that their campuses were financially squeezed, but that they intended to make the new plan work. One requirement, they said, is that tuition rises enough the first year to make up for no increases in the next three years, a process known as front-loading.

So rather than facing 5 percent tuition increases for four years, for example, students might face a 13 percent increase in their first year and no increases after that, said Chester S. Gardner, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Illinois system. The actual amounts will not be set until next year.

State Representative Kevin Joyce, a Democrat representing part of Chicago and its southwest suburbs, introduced the legislation. Mr. Joyce, 31, who entered the legislature this year, said the idea came from college students he had met while coaching football at Marist High School and who were volunteers in his election campaign. They had gone on to college but some had to drop out for a semester or longer when they faced tuition increases they could not meet.

"It has gotten so bad, that people said that anything — any kind of predictability — would be good," he said.

Under the law, students will remain eligible for the tuition freeze for four years, as long as they are continuously enrolled. Those in five-year degree programs remain eligible for five years. Students who transfer or drop out lose their eligibility.

Mr. Gardner said that the university plans to use a similar system for out-of-state students, though the law does not require it.