La Tourette upset by state tuition process

By Eric Krol

NIU President John La Tourette is once again calling for the state to streamline the way it handles tuition money.

If the state let universities spend the tuition money they collected instead of sending it to Springfield, schools might be better equipped to handle mid-year crises, La Tourette said.

NIU collects tuition money and must deposit the funds in Springfield. In turn, the state allocates the tuition money back to the universities.

However, the state doles out money during the budget process based on projected enrollment, because enrollment for the fall semester is not known until classes are underway.

This year, NIU had a larger enrollment than projected and collected close to $1 million more in tuition than the state had allocated. NIU will get the money next year.

La Tourette argues NIU would be better able to handle its bleak financial picture of faculty salary increases if NIU had the $1 million which is sitting in Springfield.

About 33 other states, including Ohio and Michigan, already use this process, La Tourette said.

Ross Hodel, Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) deputy director, said the state legislature is reluctant to change the policy for fear of losing its indirect control over tuition rates.

The university governing boards set tuition rates which are approved by the IBHE. However, because the state controls the amount of tuition money schools can use, the legislature has an indirect say in how much universities can raise tuition.

If the process was changed, the state would lose its power to control how much universities can spend and in turn raise tuition, Hodel said.

La Tourette said the state wants to keep control because it feels tuition dollars are state funds. The state considers control of state funds a matter of stewardship, or trust, La Tourette added.

He said, however, the universities already are accountable to the state because governing board members are in a stewardship position to the legislature, which created them through laws, and the governor, who appoints governing board members.

“In a sense, they’re saying they don’t trust the boards,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette, reacting to a recent IBHE letter which called for increased productivity, said he would like to see the state allow universities to carry over funds from year to year. This would permit NIU to save money when it felt the following year would be tight and save for long-term purchases, he said.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said, “I suppose we’d like a change which allowed greater flexibility.”

La Tourette also said if next year’s budget has no increase for higher education, NIU will receive the idle $1 million from this year, but lose the same amount in state tax dollars.

“After all the pain this year, we won’t be compensated,” he said.