Illinois families eye out-of-state college options to balance budgets
Joni Sorce and her oldest daughter are more than $60,000 in debt.
A majority of that debt is from tuition costs from Illinois State University, Sorce’s daughter’s alma mater.
She has another daughter who will graduate high school this spring. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, their family can’t afford another degree from the “Land of Lincoln,” so she’s searching elsewhere.
“You have to be in the upper class or in poverty to be able to afford a good four-year college in Illinois,” Sorce said. “The middle gets weeded out.”
Sorce and her husband are self-employed in Streator. While the “middle gets weeded out,” nearly 100 ISU administrators take home more than $100,000 annually, according to recent data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
As the cost of attendance continues to rise because of administrative payrolls, payouts for pension, and financial mishaps, families can no longer afford to send their children to Illinois universities.
Tuition and fees at Illinois’ public universities have reportedly risen “anywhere from 74 to 112 percent since 2006,” according to the institute. Illinois State ranked above average in tuition and fees by more than 90 percent, to $13,666 per year. The catch? Costs are only going up, and Sorce’s family isn’t the only family suffering.
Lisa Maag, an Illinois mother, watched her daughter attend school elsewhere because of the expense. Maag’s daughter finished in the top 10 percent of her high school senior class. When faced with choosing schools, she saw that attending her father’s alma mater, the University of Illinois, would cost triple the tuition as that of the University of Missouri.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Maag said. “It’s sad that she could not attend U of I, but it’s nice that there’s no student loan burden hanging over her head or ours.”
The University of Illinois charges the highest in-state tuition in the Midwest compared to each state’s flagship university.
University officials statewide are blaming the budget crisis. Yet, administrative costs seem to outweigh the idea of a budget crisis being problematic. Illinois spends more money on administrative and retirement costs than on university operations, and the university faculty and staff only continues to grow.
According to a report from the Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus, between 2004 and 2010 university administration grew by a third while the student population grew by less than 3 percent. More than 50 percent of the state’s $4.1 billion budget is now spent on retirement costs alone.
Funding isn’t the problem. Priority spending is.
“Officials at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) were set to fire 300 student workers due to a new state state regulation that requires schools to eliminate all state-funded student and temporary positions before implementing furlough days for university staff," according to the institute.
Hundreds of students were to lose job access while approximately 1,000 NEIU employees were to take five days of unpaid leave in March. A “legal loophole” will allow the students to be fired and rehired, but the issue of extensive employee payout still remains static. This proves the school’s financial focus is on its staff, not the students who have to pay for an education.
Some universities are working to reduce costs by eliminating programs that overlap with similar public colleges and right-sizing payrolls. Yet, the problem of priority spending remains and tuition costs are rising each year.
“I don’t appreciate the people who have fixed the system to make it impossible for someone wanting to better themselves through higher education, and yet they get things like automatic raises every year,” Sorce said. “Not to say people don’t deserve good pay and benefits, but when it’s on my dollar, I should have a say.”