Tuition decisions scrutinized

By Peter Schuh

CHICAGO—The Committee to Study Affordability laid groundwork and fashioned a perspective to study Illinois’ public higher education’s financial environment Monday.

The committee is following an Illinois Board of Higher Education mandate to study tuition and fee increases, student retention, time-to-degree and other issues of affordability affecting universities, students and their families.

Committee Chairman Jerry Blakemore said the committee would be looking at the affordability issue from a non-traditional perspective. He said this would involve focusing on the outcome of university decisions involving tuition and student fees.

“We will be looking at questions like, ‘What does a family need to do so that they can put their children through college? How much of an increase are you asking a family to pay?,'” Blakemore said.

The committee also will take a close look at how these issues affect the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC).

In the last decade, ISAC struggled to meet the increasing demand for student aid. Recent tuition and fee increases at public universities as well as increasing time-to-degree periods have been blamed for the strain.

Blakemore said he wanted the committee members to work from the testimony of students and other university personnel the committee will receive during four scheduled public hearings.

The public hearings are located across the state, including one at Sangamon State University in Springfield. SSU is a member of the Board of Regents along with NIU and Illinois State University in Normal.

Committee Member David Downey suggested the committee learn more about the state legislature’s role in higher education.

Blakemore said state legislators will be invted to hearings in their region, and this should help attract their opinion.

Several members of the committee said they were concerned about being bogged down by the large mandate the IBHE assigned the committee.

“We may have to say (to the IBHE) this is too broad a charge. We may have to make our own priorities,” Downey said.

The committee will hold four hearings and six committee meetings before making a recommendation to the IBHE next September.