Committee holds final forum

By Sabryna Cornish and Vickie Snow

This is it. Illinois students have one last chance to speak out about the rising cost of higher education.

Students, university officials and others can voice their concerns to the Joint Committee on College Tuition on Nov. 13 at the Southern Illinois University Medical Center in Springfield. The committee will consider all of the concerns expressed at the hearing in developing a proposal for next fall’s tuition rate.

Only about five students showed up to express their concerns about tuition and state funding when the group came to NIU last month.

Student committee member Sheila Heitzig said she hopes the Nov. 13 hearing will not repeat dismal attendances of past hearings. “We’re really shot if we don’t get some students there,” she said.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education formed the committee which will make a recommendation to the General Assembly by Jan. 9.

The Assembly’s decision will be the last word on tuition rates, currently at a standstill. And the tuition committee members want to make sure all students have a chance to voice their opinions.

“Nothing will be written, introduced or decided on until after the last meeting (in Springfield),” said Ginger Rugai, press aide to Sen. Jeremiah Joyce, D-Chicago. Joyce is committee chairman.

University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry will testify at the hearing, but Heitzig claimed he “is not very sympathetic toward students’ concerns.”

Heitzig said the committee might have to battle among themselves to come up with a proposal since different members have different vested interests.

The committee will bring its proposal directly to the General Assembly, unlike past years when the IBHE took on the task. This time around, the only input the IBHE has is its testimonies, Heitzig said.

IBHE Deputy Director Ross Hodel said he isn’t sure what the committee’s report to the assembly will say at this point. “That’s a good question,” he said.

As for the IBHE’s position, “our board doesn’t want tuition to increase any faster than the rate of inflation,” Hodel said.

Tuition probably will rise 8 to 10 percent due to lack of state money dished out to universities. NIU receives less state support per student than any other university in Illinois. NIU’s tuition without fees is $853 per semester for full-time students.

IBHE guidelines state tuition should be about one-third the cost of instruction. Parents and students currently foot two-thirds of the bill.

“We may come to the conclusion the one-third, two-third policy is simply unrealistic and we should abandon it,” Joyce said at the Sept. 12 tuition hearing.

At the Sept. 25 hearing in Chicago, IBHE Executive Director Richard Wagner testified for two hours.

“If the temporary increase in the income rate is not made permanent, the resulting loss of funding for higher education will negate the gains made in fiscal years 1990 and 1991,” Wagner said.

Hodel agrees with Wagner that the income tax surcharge should become permanent. The tax provides a total of $111 million and “a lot of money for higher education,” he said.

The status of the surcharge will be decided June 30, 1991.