State retains tuition funds

By Eric Krol

An eleventh-hour attempt by NIU President John La Tourette to rescue tuition money stuck in Springfield failed because of a lack of interest by state legislators.

La Tourette said NIU liaisons tried to speak with state legislators during last week’s veto session about releasing tuition money NIU had collected, but can’t use due to the way the state budget process works.

NIU must estimate the amount of tuition money it will collect for the fall semester based on projected enrollment. The state then allocates NIU funds based on the projected figure.

The allocation, however, is made before the exact number of students are known.

NIU enrollment was larger than anticipated this fall, and the university collected $985,000 more than the state legislature allocated, La Tourette said.

Due to the state budget policy, NIU will not receive the money until next year, La Tourette said.

In effect, the school has nearly a million dollars sitting in Springfield which could be used to solve some pressing needs such as a mid-year faculty salary increase and adding needed classes next semester, he said.

La Tourette said other schools such as Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University have funds sitting in Springfield as well, but no concerted effort was made among the universities to get the money released.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said, “We made a major effort to try and get the legislature to provide these funds.”

Groves said part of the reason the effort failed was that the Bureau of the Budget wanted to hold the line on any funding increases, even though the state wouldn’t have been spending any new money.

“In politics, a lot has to do with timing, and the timing just wasn’t right,” he said.

After this summer’s tense state budget situation, state legislators were wary of any increases in allocations, La Tourette said.

La Tourette said getting the funds released would have required someone like House Majority Leader Michael Madigan to push the request.

There was no sentiment for any budget-related bills at the veto session, said IBHE Deputy Director Ross Hodel.

The IBHE did not make an effort to lobby legislators because “our judgement was that nothing was going to happen,” Hodel said.

However, Hodel added, the IBHE has been on record for years wanting the tuition collection part of the budget process to change.

The state legislature does not want to change its budget policy because it wants to maintain control over the amount of money universities can collect, Hodel said.

The state indirectly controls tuition increases by telling the universities how many tuition dollars it can spend. If the state were to let the universities spend whatever they collected, they could raise tuition to high rates, Hodel said.

La Tourette said about 33 other states let the universities spend what they collect, citing Ohio and Michigan as examples.