Tuition waiver’s repeal opposed by Baker, NIU

By Alexander Chettiath

Geography professor David Changnon said a 50 percent tuition waiver, which is at risk of being repealed, influenced his children’s decision to go to Illinois universities.

Changnon has worked at NIU since 1992. His children attend Illinois State University and the University of Illinois, where they had a portion of their tuition waived as children of a public university employee.

“If the discount didn’t exist we would have probably looked at out-of-state universities more carefully,” Changnon said. “Because what we are finding out from just our own research – and our friends in the region have told us – is that going out of state for school can be cheaper than going to Illinois universities.”

Last year, 2,156 children of employee tuition waivers were issued with a total value of almost $10 million, according to a 2014 report by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The 50 percent tuition waiver applies to the children of any staff or faculty member who has worked at a state university for at least seven years. The student must be younger than 25 and the waiver only applies to undergraduate tuition. House Bill 403, filed by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, looks to repeal the waiver starting in the 2015-16 school year. NIU has voiced opposition to Franks’ bill.

NIU response

NIU spokesman Brad Hoey said repealing the tuition waiver can have two main negatives, the first being the export of students from Illinois. In 2012, Illinois lost 15,953 incoming students to out-of-state schools, the highest number in the United States besides New Jersey, which lost 26,677 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The second negative Hoey said was the loss of quality staff members. He said the tuition waiver adds to the attractiveness of schools in less-populated areas. Without this benefit, many staff candidates will go to places with higher pay or a more populated setting.

“As long as the state has fiscal difficulties there will always be proposals and legislation to adversely affect faculty and staff. We just have to be vigilant of it,” Hoey said.

NIU President Doug Baker has voiced opposition to the bill in a letter to annuitants and NIU councils.

“We, along with other universities, have opposed such bills, making the point that these waivers help recruit and retain faculty and staff, makes education for their families more affordable and encourages students to remain in the state at a time when we face a serious outmigration issue,” Baker said in the letter to annuitants.

Cost of attending school in Illinois

In 2014-15, the average tuition at a public four-year institution was $8,850.50 per year. Illinois has the fifth-highest tuition in the country with an average of $12,770, according to a survey done by the College Board. In the fall, NIU undergraduate tuition will be $9,253 for an in-state undergraduate student taking 15 hours.