February 28, 2013
By L. E. Hlavach
SPRINGFIELD — To make college more affordable, Illinois’ most immediate need is to reform pensions, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said Wednesday.
Simon testified before a joint session of the Senate and the House higher education committees, sharing a report on innovative practices to improve college affordability.
She also spoke afterward to reporters, who raised related budget questions as Gov. Pat Quinn prepares to deliver his budget speech next week.
“But even resolving the pension issue is not going to be a magic wand,” Simon said, because there will be “increasing expectations from higher education and limited resources.” For this reason, she said, “We still need to work on ways to be most efficient with our resources.”
In 2011 and 2012, Simon went on the “ultimate college tour” and visited all 48 community colleges and 12 four-year universities in the state.
She discovered that Illinois’ community colleges are “a real resource for the state” although they are often overlooked.
She said she also was surprised to find that the public universities “can do a much better job learning from each other.”
Her report outlined several “game-changing” practices some Illinois colleges use to help hold down costs for students.
Simon praised Eastern Illinois University’s textbook rental program, which was described to the joint committee by Daniel Nadler, EIU’s vice president for student affairs.
Nadler explained that EIU students pay a rental fee of $9.95 per credit hour, which is charged with their regular tuition and fees.
If a student takes 15 credits a semester, his textbooks would cost him $149.25 in rental fees at a time when a single textbook at other schools might cost $150 or more.
EIU history major Zack Samples of Mount Zion told the joint committee that the textbook program was just one cost-saving effort that drew him to that university.
Simon’s report also highlighted Illinois State University’s internship program, Western Illinois University’s online and blended course delivery system, and efforts at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to streamline degree requirements to make it easier to finish within four years.
Simon’s report admitted that Illinois’ tuition rates have risen markedly over the past few years. The average Illinois public institution tuition in 2000 was $4,160. By 2013, the average had risen to $12,732.