CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois law that locks in tuition rates for in-state students appears to have the unintended effect of driving up tuition for out-of-state students and fees for all, according to a pair of studies from University of Illinois researchers.
The law, which took effect in 2004, guarantees a freshman at a state university will pay the same tuition rate for four years. Only three other states — Oklahoma, Texas and, as of this summer, North Carolina — have similar laws. But lawmakers in places like Utah and Idaho recently have considered or at least discussed fixed-rate tuition laws.
Such laws around the country, however, increased student fees between 2000 and 2012 by 40 percent and tuition rates for out-of-state students by 28 percent, according to a study published in the September-October issue of the Journal of Higher Education by researchers Jennifer Delaney and Tyler Kearney. In Illinois alone, 12 public universities increased their nonresident tuition rates by up to 30 percent since 2004, which was faster than other states, they wrote in a study published last year in the journal Economics of Education Review.
“Our research is showing the increase beyond what was expected,” Delaney said, because university administrators who were forced to plan out revenue needs for four-year periods appear to have increased non-resident tuition as a way to keep the money flowing, Delaney said. Average public-university tuitions that had been under $4,000 both in Illinois and the rest of the country in 2000 grew far apart — by 2010, the average public tuition rate in Illinois was well over $7,000 a year compared to under $5,000 in other states.
The price of a state college degree nationwide has risen alongside dwindling state support and a rise in student loan debt; in Illinois, the ongoing budget crisis has cut not only state support of public universities but also financial aid. But those decreases in state support started years ago, and drove drastic jumps in tuition.
“I was just getting out of school at that point. I was seeing tuition jumping 16 percent, 18 percent each year,” said state Sen. Scott Bennett, a Democrat who graduated from the Illinois State University and later the University of Illinois School of Law. His district now includes Urbana-Champaign, and he’s a member of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee.
That led to the creation of Illinois’ law, which was intended to give students predictability in what they would pay. But now, University of Illinois administrators say the studies underline their belief that it’s time to end the tuition-freeze law, spokesman Tom Hardy said.
“I think that the law has probably served its useful purpose and that this is one of these laws or governmental mandates that would probably be useful, helpful to public universities, if that went by the boards,” he said.
The cost of tuition, housing and other expenses over four years at the system’s flagship Urbana-Champaign campus, for instance, now tops $100,000 for in-state students.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities at the time Illinois’ law was written praised the idea of providing predictable rates, but questioned whether the law would truly hold down tuition. Now the group says it is not surprised to find that it led to increases for some.
“This is a policy that, again, is very popular among state lawmakers. It’s very simple, people get it,” said Thomas Harnisch, the association’s director of state relations and policy analysis. “But it just hasn’t shown to be good policy.”
Texas and Oklahoma created their own laws, and allow in-state students to opt in rather than requiring schools to freeze rates. Participation rates are very low, Delaney said. North Carolina’s new law affects different schools in different ways, but would set guaranteed four-year tuition rates at University of North Carolina system campuses.
While schools and policy groups may be ready to see Illinois’ law and those like it go away, Bennett said that would be hasty. The law benefits in-state students who know what they’ll pay for four years, he said, and that’s useful amid the state’s budget crisis, which has eliminated some financial aid and left schools scrambling for revenue.
“I’m not a fan of lifting the guaranteed tuition until we feel there’s (an alternative) in place,” he said.
Follow David Mercer on Twitter at @davidmercerAP