Committee to inspect college affordability

By Peter Schuh

A new committee could ease tuition pressures at NIU.

Rey Brune, chair of the newly-established Committee to Study Affordability in Higher Education, said he hopes recommendations from the committee will help relieve the burden of increasing tuition costs on students.

“I think the burden of cost is being increased on students too heavily,” Brune said. “I think we have to keep in mind this burden to students.”

The Illinois Board of Higher Education appointed the committee in September to study the issue of affordability at Illinois’ public universities. The committee will take up its charge during its Nov. 8 organizational meeting, and is expected to deliver a recommendation to the IBHE next September.

The committee is another wheel in the IBHE’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity machine, designed to streamline Illinois’ higher education system.

Through the PQP initiative, the IBHE cranked out 190 recommended program cuts last year and will be delivering a second list of cuts next week.

The committee has been charged by the IBHE, of which Brune is a member, to examine several aspects of higher education, including the increasing cost of tuition and fees and student trends such as retention and time to degree.

Brune said he has no idea what the committee might recommend next September, but added he knows of areas he hopes the committee will look into.

The majority of his concerns centered around the increasing cost of higher education.

“I think things get a bit out of proportion,” Brune said. “A tuition increase is a lot more severe to the student than beneficial to the university.”

He cited the decisions of two university governing boards, who switched from a base tuition to a per-credit-hour charge, as being a bad choice for students.

“I have a problem with two boards who said 12 hours is a full load and started charging students per hour above 12 hours,” Brune said.

The Board of Regents, NIU’s governing board, switched to the per-credit-hour system along with Southern Illinois University.

Brune said this move encourages students to take fewer hours by endorsing a 12-hour class schedule as a “full load.” He said this increases students’ time-to-degree and causes financial damage to Illinois’ Student Assistance Commission, which is forced to assist these students through an extra year of courses and is therefore unable to help other students.

“We ought to make those students take full loads,” he said, as a possible recommendation the committee might consider.

Brune also attacked the student fees side of higher education cost.

“I think some of the fee increases we have seen have been excessive,” he said.

Brune noted a case where Illinois State University responded to an IBHE recommendation to remove state-appropriated funds by raising a student fee to fund the athletic department. A similar proposal at NIU fell under student protest last semester.

“All ISU did was transfer the funds to students,” he said. “I don’t think that’s being any more productive. I think that’s asking students to pay more for a college education. We need to take a close look at areas like this.”