Editorial: A Great Trustees Decision— But a High Cost to the Low Price?

The SIU Board of Trustees made an excellent decision on April 17 when it voted not to raise tuition
Chris Wissmann

 

The SIU Board of Trustees made an excellent decision on April 17 when it voted not to raise tuition and keep that cost at fall 2013 levels.

As Marvin Kleinau pointed out in an April 17 letter to Nightlife, the university has done a good job of keeping costs relatively low— SIU’s average net costs (tuition and fees minus grants and scholarships) as calculated on the College Scorecard at <http://www.WhiteHouse.gov> are fairly low compared to most other public universities in Illinois.

At the same time, however, the distance isn’t that great between annual net costs at the Carbondale campus and the state’s flagship school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign— $14,294 versus $16,495.

Meanwhile, SIU’s costs have escalated at alarming rates. The College Scorecard could find only eighteen four-year public universities in the nation that raised net costs at a higher rate than the Carbondale campus. Only seven raised net costs at a rate higher than the Edwardsville campus.

For umpteen years, previous Trustees and administrations have simply passed the cost of shrinking state appropriations along to students in the form of higher tuition and fees. This board deserves applause for holding the line.

Meanwhile, Nightlife readers need no reminder that enrollment has dropped on the Carbondale campus from a high of 21,999 in 1991 to 16,277 last fall, possibly the lowest number of students on campus since 1964.

Long-term, holding the line on tuition and fees should help attract students put off by skyrocketing costs.

In the meantime, however, the Trustees’ action could pose difficult challenges for the administration of incoming system president Randy Dunn.

About four years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn pushed through a large, temporary income-tax increase. It’s set to expire this year. Should the legislature approve its extension or permanence, and SIU is lucky, it may get a flat state allocation— not terribly helpful in the face of rising expenses, but survivable.

Should the General Assembly not extend the tax increase or fail to advance one of several proposed constitutional amendments that would establish a graduated income tax, SIU could face a massive cut in state appropriations.

Without a giant increase in tuition-paying students to compensate for revenue losses— and this would dramatically buck the twenty-year straight-down trajectory of enrollment on the Carbondale campus— then SIU in turn must make enormous cuts to balance its budget.

In this scenario, SIU would have no choice but to lay off hundreds of employees.

For years— since at least the faculty purge of 1971— the administration and its employees have locked themselves into struggles characterized by mistrust and disdain.

Everyone needs to get over that, and right now, because everyone’s jobs are on the line.

Only the hopelessly naïve can possibly believe that a majority of state legislators will see, on their own, the inherent benefits of funding higher education, especially universities outside their districts. They will need a hard sell from a united front.

Only those drugged on the FDA-maximum dose of antidepressants could possibly think an enrollment turnaround will come on its own. Prospective SIU students will also need a hard sell from a united front.

Management and labor at SIU need to make common cause and fight for everyone’s mutual benefit. Now. Like it or not, two paramount job responsibilities for every SIU employee, from laborers to professors to the system president, include lobbying the legislature for funding and recruiting new students.

I can already hear a multitude of SIU employees whining, “That’s not my job.” On some level, almost all of them are right. Should they take that attitude into the summer, however, they may take comfort in finding themselves correct on another level, while in line at the unemployment agency.