Turner misses a few important NIU points

Eric Turner makes several salient points in Friday’s editorial titled, “Overspending to blame for tuition hike.” However, several of the main themes are not applicable to NIU.

The problem with funding at NIU (and throughout Illinois) is not overspending. It is underfunding by the State of Illinois.

NIU received about $120 million in 1997 from the state, but that has dropped to about $100 million. The state is forcing increases in tuition by ignoring higher education.

NIU is not spending more money – it is spending less.

But there are limits: We cannot continue to take budget reductions, or years of no increases and continue to just adjust what we spend. We are teaching more students with about 15 percent less money than we did a decade ago – the difference is greater if we factor in inflation.

State legislators, many of whom benefited from the social contract of public higher education, are now undercutting that ideal or abandoning it altogether.

To reverse this trend, legislators must hear from students and their parents that access to affordable higher education is important to their constituency.

Illinois is proud to say that it helps students with the cost of education through the MAP grant program and says that it has increased funding of the MAP grant program. That is true, but misleading.

Demographic studies showed that we could expect a marked increase in the traditional freshman cohort during these years, but the MAP grants have not kept up.

In 2003-04 about 56,000 students who qualified for MAP grants did not get them because of a lack of funds. By 2004-05 this figure almost tripled. Figures for this year are not available.

Additionally, President Bush has been remarkably slow to make good on his promise to increase Pell grants.

Mr. Turner also relies on national averages to make a point.

While it may be true that the national average is 21 cents per dollar spent on instruction, that does not mean that the figure accurately represents NIU’s spending on instruction. As a matter of fact, NIU’s figure is much higher and NIU has one of the leanest administrative budgets in the Illinois state system.

Now as to other points: First, capital improvements – that is, spending on buildings and infrastructure – are not controlled by NIU directly. The state gives NIU a separate budget for that, and also tells us how it is to be spent.

Such as the Rec Center.

Secondly, as to the value of highly paid coaches and money spent on university athletics – well, I’m not going to defend that. While it is true athletics offers a few people a chance at a degree, I believe it is not in the best interests of the university to offer more tuition waivers to athletes than it offers to well prepared science students or prospective teachers.

NIU, under President John Peters and our Board of Trustees, has made a remarkable effort to keep costs down for students. Our tuition increases over the period of reduced funding from the state have been less than most institutions.

This year’s increase seems particularly harsh, but in reality it was inevitable.

We could not continue to offer the quality of services and course delivery without additional funds.

Yes, most professors will get a minimal raise this year, but many of us have seen little or no raises in several years, and our real income has actually dropped over the last eight years.

J. B. Stephen

Associate Professor

Department of Mathematical Sciences