Regents’ budget tops inflation

By Peter Schuh

While state funding levels have failed to meet inflation and the needs of higher education, a 156.9 percent increase in tuition income over the last 10 years at Board of Regents universities has given those schools real dollar funding increases.

From fiscal year 1983 to FY 1993 the Regents, which governs NIU, Illinois State University and Sangamon State University, increased its total budget from $148 million to $246.5 million (66.6 percent). In the same time period the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI), the inflation counter for universities, increased by only 58 percent.

In contrast to the Regents’ increase, NIU saw only a 60.2 percent increase in its budget in the 10-year window, but even this smaller increase exceeds the HEPI.

The HEPI is considered by university professionals to be more accurate than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in predicting and plotting the rise of inflation in higher education. The HEPI contains variables that relate specifically to the specialized materials universities purchase. The CPI grew only 45 percent from FY 1983 to FY 1993.

Steve Henriksen, assistant vice chancellor for operating budgets, admitted the Regents have seen “some modest gains above inflation, almost totally from student tuition funds.”

In the last 10 years, the Illinois legislature has failed to increase funding at the state’s public universities even at the rate of CPI. State funds allocated to the Regents have risen by only 39 percent, or 6 percent below the CPI.

“As a result of the lower levels of tax support it has been necessary for the Regency System and other public university systems to increase tuition in an effort to retain an adequate level of funding,” Henriksen said.

Yet the Regents’ tuition increases in the last 10 years have not only countered the loss of state funding, they have lifted the Regents’ budget past the HEPI. In addition, the Regents have not ruled out a tuition increase for next year.

Earlier this semester Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves said a proposed tuition increase of 5.5 to 11 percent at the University of Illinois system could prompt a similar, but possibly smaller, increase at Regency universities.

Henriksen argued that whether the Regents have gained or lost funds in recent years depends on the “window” individuals choose to look at the Regents’ budget through.

He said the Regents has seen only a 9 percent increase in its total budget (both state funds and tuition) since FY 90, while the HEPI for that same period stands at 12.3 percent. This means the Regents’ budget lost real dollars from 1990 to 1993.

However, this budgetary drought comes after a 60.7 percent total budget increase from FY 1983 to FY 1990, funded primarily by tuition and an income tax surcharge intended for higher education in 1990.