Tuition ‘ballooned’ over decade

By Ken Goze

During the 1980s, tuition at NIU ballooned more than twice the rate of inflation while spending for instruction remained nearly flat.

Tuition rose from $298 in the academic year 1980-81 to $857 in 1990-91, a 188 percent increase.

Inflation during the same period was about 83 percent, according to NIU figures on constant dollar expenditures from state appropriated funds.

Meanwhile, NIU only spent about $342,500 more real dollars on instruction in 1990 than it had 10 years earlier, an increase of less than 1 percent.

During the same period, spending for research skyrocketed, increasing more than 68 percent or $4.6 million. Student support and services followed with a nearly $808,000 increase in spending or a 19 percent increase.

NIU President John La Tourette said the relatively tiny increase was due in large part to a state government that pressured NIU and other universities to expand their non-instructional missions such as research while refusing to pay the bill.

“During the Thompson administration, particularly as it focused on the 1982 elections, the most important issue in the campaign was economic development. Universities were asked to expand applied research to assist economic development,” he said.

“What you had was this tremendous expansion of these activities at a time when the state was being very, very tight about expanding resources to the university,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette said the lopsided spending did not damage the quality of instruction and the number of instructors at NIU stayed nearly constant while enrollment dropped slightly.

“It wasn’t that faculty or administrators were mean-spirited and neglectful of instruction. We tried to keep up with instruction. Our commitment remained about the same,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette said the dramatic tuition increases were needed to make up for state support that lagged behind inflation. He cited Illinois Auditor General figures that higher education costs during the 80s increased about 73 percent while state appropriations increased only 41 percent.

“Every time you lose 1 percent of state support to make up for inflation, it takes a 3 or 4 percent increase in tuition to make it up,” he said.

The recent state budget cuts are expected to cost NIU $2.5 million. The cut, possibly permanent, has increased pressure on NIU to cut enrollment and might require a tuition increase of at least 10 percent to make up.

“It’s been tough to keep up with the demands of students and keep up with the kind of access we’ve allowed in terms of enrollment,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette said NIU has set a target enrollment reduction of 600 for next year’s enrollment. Rather than using a set enrollment cap, NIU adjusts its requirements.

Prospective students now need to be in the top third of their class and have an ACT score of 20 or 21. La Tourette said NIU receives about 13,000 applications per year.

“We took drastic measures. We have higher standards for admissions even though the total number of students graduating from high schools has gone down 20 percent. That gets to the heart of a public university because the mission ought to be quality programs with access,” La Tourette said.

La Tourette said any new tuition increase would be used to address NIU’s priorities of salaries, improvement of undergraduate education, more minority programs and serving students off-campus.