JCCT, students debate increasing tuition costs

By Vickie Snow

SPRINGFIELD—As tuition rises, the quality of education drops, according to a debate between a legislative panel and college students.

The Joint Committee on College Tuition held its final public hearing Tuesday at the Southern Illinos University School of Medicine. The group’s proposal for setting tuition rates will be given to the General Assembly Jan. 9.

The Illinois Student Association, a lobbying group that helped form the committee, wants to see tuition lowered.

“Illinois higher education has been underfunded through the last decade,” said ISA Executive Director David Starrett. “Students have been paying more for less.”

Committee member Gail Stern, representing the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, said “students are accepting the fact they will go into debt for education.”

Teachers’ union representative Mitch Vogel, president of the University of Professionals of Illinois, said the high cost of education is forcing students to make career decisions based on salary, instead of interests, to pay off college loans.

Some officials think that as educational costs continue to climb, more students will look outside of Illinois to spend their education dollars.

Students look past the quality of education as they go to different colleges for lower costs, Vogel said.

Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves told the committee that tuition at Illinois colleges is not excessive compared to other states.

Committee member Sheila Heitzig, representing the Board of Governors system, asked, “If tuition isn’t too high, then why are we paying more for less?”

She said smaller classes from cash cuts have burdened students.

“The education provided … has not notably worsened,” Groves said. He also requested data proving the diminishing quality of education when costs soar.

Committee member Darrell Johnson, representing the Board of Trustees at SIU, said “students realize quality is slipping. It’s part of the reason they leave the state.”

Groves said the drop is replaced with income tax surcharge money.

U of I Student Trustee Scott Forbes said raising tuition will not solve the problem of lower-quality education.

Forbes said he will be leaving Illinois to pursue a less-expensive route to get his master’s degree.

Todd Drafall, U of I student and member of the ISA Board of Directors, said “I was always told I’d be able to go wherever I wanted, and for some reason I believed that.”

His college savings were eaten up faster than he thought they would, Drafall said.

Illinois State University President Thomas Wallace said inadequate financial aid is the “real culprit” with the tuition problem.

Many ISU students graduate with $6,000 debts, he said.

Tuition at U of I is $2,266 a year while it costs students $1,714 to go to NIU or ISU, according to Illinois Board of Higher Education data.