University of Illinois trustees pledged this afternoon to try and keep tuition increases in line with the inflation rate for the next three years.
The policy, approved by the board at its meeting at UIC, cautioned, however, that increases are dependent on state financial support and internal cost-cutting measures.
The goal is to allow students and their families to plan ahead as they think about college expenses, said U. of I. chief financial officer Walter Knorr.
“It is an attempt … to improve predictability for tuition,” Knorr said. “I hope this would facilitate short-term and long-term planning for students, families and the university.”
The policy reinforces similar guidelines set by trustees in 1995, but chair Christopher Kennedy said he hopes the board’s stated desire to keep tuition flat on an inflation-adjusted basis will lead to more consistency. Recent increases have ranged from 2.6 percent to 16 percent.
“Students and faculty and staff all would prefer a clear, early and predictable understanding of tuition practices,” Kennedy said.
The board said it will set tuition earlier — by mid-March for the 2011-2012 academic year — a departure from prior practice that led tuition to be decided as late as June, two months before the start of the school year.
University officials have not decided which price index will be used as a basis for determining the tuition rate. The Consumer Price Index puts the average inflation rate during the past four years at 2 percent, said U. of I. spokesman Thomas Hardy.
Gov. Pat Quinn, an ex-officio board member who attended Thursday’s meeting, said tying tuition increases to inflation “has a lot of merit.” Following the meeting, Quinn also said increasing student scholarships is one of his top goals for his second term.
During his second U. of I. meeting as governor, Quinn sat through a grim presentation on the state’s budget outlook and its effect on higher education. The state currently owes U. of I. more than $400 million.
Quinn used the opportunity to tout his debt restructuring plan that would help the state pay $8 billion in backlogged bills.
U. of I. board chair Christopher Kennedy took advantage of Quinn’s attendance to urge him to pick higher education when setting funding priorities. Kennedy remarked that U. of I.’s three campuses employ tens of thousands of Illinois residents, and faculty generate millions in research dollars that benefit the state.
“If you have a decision between funding roads and bridges and funding an institution like the University of Illinois, it is important to remember” the finances generated by a university, Kennedy said. He joked that unlike faculty who bring in research funding, the governor would not be able to “find us a bridge that yields $20 million.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Kennedy, president of Merchandise Mart Properties and the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, was re-elected board chairman. He was among a new group of trustees appointed by Quinn in Sept. 2009 following an admissions scandal.
Earlier this week, Quinn replaced two board members, including holdout trustee Frances Carroll, who refused the governor’s call to resign in 2009. He also replaced trustee Carlos Tortolero, who Quinn appointed that same year. Tortolero called the move “political,” though he didn’t elaborate.
In response, Quinn said: “It is good not just to have the same people over and over again.”
New trustees are attorney Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada, who had served on Quinn’s Admissions Review Commission. Estrada, the son of immigrants, grew up near UIC. Both are U. of I. alums.
Quinn also reappointed Karen Hasara, a former Springfield mayor.