Lawmakers press U of I on tuition

By Ben Yount 
Illinois News Network

The executive vice president at the University of Illinois thinks the school is close to a special budget arrangement that will guarantee the university nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars a year. But lawmakers aren’t as sure.

U of I leaders are hoping to push through their special budget arrangement by promising to enroll more Illinois students at the University of Illinois.

Barb Wilson, who also serves as vice president for academic affairs, acknowledged that almost half the students in the state leave to attend college elsewhere.

“About 45 percent of college ready students in the state of Illinois pursue college degrees outside the state of Illinois,” Wilson said. “When we ask students who choose other institutions, eight of the top ten reasons are financial.”

The U of I is proposing to offer more financial aid for Illinois students. Wilson said the university is ready to commit to $170 million a year, sending about 85 percent of their aid to Illinois students.

But state Rep. Kathleen Willis says more financial aid is the same as lowering the cost of a degree.

“The U of I is the elite school of the state system schools, but it’s also the highest in tuition costs of all of our state schools,” Wheeler said.

Tuition, room and board, and fees at the U of I can cost an Illinois student $35 thousand a year. Illinois students can attend Indiana University, the University of Missouri, or the University of Wisconsin Madison for almost $10 thousand less.

Wheeler said there’s been resistance from the university over the years to make the school more accessible.

“You got to stop fighting us,” Wheeler told university leaders. “You have to realize we’re out there trying for these students. Access is everything.”

Chicago Democrat Mary Flowers demanded answers from U of I President Tim Killeen about the double digit gap in graduation rates between African American and other students. A gap that can be nearly 20-percent on some campuses.

“Are these numbers good for you? Is this acceptable for you?” Flowers asked dismissively of Killeen.

U of I’s special request is still working its way through the statehouse. Supporters and President Killeen hope they are “in the throes” of getting it passed.

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