ISU proposal meets criticism

By Eric Krol

A revolutionary method of increasing university revenue proposed by Illinois State University is being met with criticism from NIU President John La Tourette.

ISU President Thomas Wallace outlined a fee increase plan which would bring in about $12 million per year for ISU while protecting low- and middle-income students.

According to Wallace’s plan, all students are assessed a fee increase of $650 each year.

However, students receiving financial aid would only pay a portion of the fee increase based on their adjusted parent income (API).

Students with an API under $30,000 would receive a full $650 grant to cover the fee increase.

Students in the $30,000-$44,999 API range would receive a $500 grant, paying only $150 more per year, while those in the $45,000-$59,999 category would pay $250 more per year after a $400 grant.

Students receiving financial aid falling in the $60,000 and over API range would get a $300 grant and pay $350 of the fee increase each year.

Students not receiving need-based financial aid would pay the full $650 increase each year.

Wallace said his proposal is based on a program adopted this year by the University of California system.

Wallace said $9 million of the additional revenue would go toward operational costs such as teacher salary increases and additional classes to enable students to graduate in four years. The remaining $3 million would go toward gift financial aid for students, he said.

“Public education has become unaffordable for lower- and middle-income families,” he said.

“The point is, people making $90,000 a year can afford to pay more,” Wallace said.

Wallace said, “You have to make over $100,000 a year to pay $3,000 in taxes in this state.” The state provides about $3,000 in subsidies for each public university student.

Wallace said he expressed concern “that only $230 of that $3,000 goes to higher education in general.”

Wallace said 11 percent of ISU’s students come from families which make over $100,000 a year, and these students receive the same $3,000 subsidy.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said the program would have to be state-wide because it would be nearly impossible to get a tuition increase for one institution approved.

La Tourette said he is opposed to the proposal. “It has the seeds of destroying public higher education,” he said.

“The plan escapes the whole issue that public education is here to provide access,” La Tourette added.

La Tourette said if people can’t afford public higher education, “the solution is changing the tax structure.”

“If there’s a need for a broader tax structure, we should have a progressive income tax structure,” he said.

The problem is the plan focuses on tuition as a means to correct a lack of funding by the state legislature, La Tourette said. “It allows the state to walk away from the problem,” he said.

“NIU might as well become a private university,” he said.

Groves said there are some mechanical problems with implementing a program of this nature, but added “we are hard pressed for funding and the governor has stated there will be no additional taxes.”

Groves also said he expresses some reluctance about raising tuition, because the Regents recommended a 10 percent tuition hike last year and the Illinois Board of Higher Education only approved a 5 percent increase.

NIU Student Regent James Mertes said he opposed the plan as well. “It’s the Robin Hood philosophy of funding higher education,” Mertes said.

“Wallace wants to redistribute the wealth,” Mertes added.

Mertes said, “I certainly hope the state legislature will not view this proposal as a way of avoiding the provision of adequate tax support.”