Tuition hike proposed to stabilize budget

By Ken Goze

Students sweating over the very real possibility of a double-digit tuition hike next year should take heart. It could be worse.

Jim Nowlan, president of the Taxpayer’s Federation of Illinois, thinks tuition should double. Nowlan proposed 100 percent tuition increase as part of a plan to stabilize the state’s budget.

Nowlan said the plan would not damage access to higher education because the hike would be coupled with a dramatic increase in financial aid.

“Conceptually, it shouldn’t affect access if the present aid formula is valid,” he said. He said the higher rate still would be lower than the cost of an education and private school tuition.

Nowlan said the tuition proposal came out of an exercise he conducted to see if the budget crisis could be solved without a tax increase.

Nowlan said the plan would save about $1.3 billion and shift the tuition burden onto those best able to pay. “I’m not wildly enthusiastic about the idea, but we’re in a terrible situation,” Nowlan said.

Illinois ended March with a record $1.2 billion in unpaid bills. With skyrocketing health care costs and a sagging economy, Nowlan said the state has to adopt such a plan, cut services to the poor or raise taxes— considered political suicide in Springfield.

Nowlan is a former legislator and professor who taught for a semester in NIU’s Public Administration Division.

Debra Smitley, Illinois Board of Higher Education associate director for public affairs, said the plan should be studied, but there are concerns that it would price many students out of an education.

Smitley said the plan depends on an aid system which can’t meet present needs. She said the need-based $188 million Monetary Award Program currently falls $62 million short of demand.

NIU President John La Tourette said doubling tuition would have a disastrous effect on public universities without solving the state’s long-term money troubles.

La Tourette said the state needs to raise taxes and shift the burden onto the well-off, scrapping the current 3 percent flat tax in favor of a progressive income tax averaging 4 percent.

La Tourette said Illinois is a relatively rich state, ranking ninth in per capita income, yet has a tax structure ranking in the bottom third of the nation.

He said doubling tuition would cut many students out of higher education.

“You don’t redistribute income through a tuition plan. It flies in the face of the concept of public education. From the point of an educator and economist, this is a bad idea,” La Tourette said.