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ISU Administration Suggests Possible 'Modest' Tuition Hike

PowerPoint slide showing costs of tuition, fees, room and board
Colleen Reynolds
A breakdown of current costs to attend Illinois State University.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz is not making a hard recommendation to the board of trustees about a fall tuition increase, but says looking at what other state universities already have approved, “My sense would be for a modest 1-2% tuition increase.” 

He suggested a gradual increase would lesson the need for a more dramatic boost later.

At a trustees meeting on Saturday, the administration showed a slide showing a 1% increase in tuition for full-time incoming freshmen for the 2021-2022 academic year would take the cost of attending ISU from $25,169 to $25,421 -- a difference of $252, if approved.

The 1% hike would generate an estimated additional $2 million, if enrollment remains steady. After the meeting, conducted via Zoom, Dietz suggested the additional revenue could go to student scholarships and financial aid. 

Again, the administration is not making a recommendation now, but plans to present various options and a final proposal for the board of trustees at its May meeting. Vice President for Finance and Planning Dan Stephens said with no increase, ISU would rank seventh out of 11 state public universities in total college costs, but four public institutions have yet to announce their plans. 

That placement keeps ISU's total cost lower than Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University’s two campuses and all of the University of Illinois campuses. Traditonally, Dietz said ISU’s cost is closest to U of I system schools.

With a 1% tuition increase, that ranking would inch up to sixth out of the 11 schools that have voted on cost increases so far. ISU student trustee Jada Turner said at the trustees’ meeting next month, she would like to see projections for other increases, how the money would be used, and the impact on student programs and services if tuition, fees, and room and board remain frozen. 

Board chair Julie Annette Jones agreed.

“Do we have some belt-tightening that we need to do if we don’t increase?" she asked. "If we do increase, where are those funds gonna go and what are those funds gonna look like that’ll be generated by that increase?”

Jones also would like to see the impact with various enrollment scenarios: “If we have 20,000 students … if we have 22,000 students, that kind of detail.”

Trustee Bob Navarro asked if there was an opportunity to reduce student fees based on additional federal and state government stimulus money due to the pandemic. He suggested perhaps lowering fees, but hiking tuition, resulting in a zero net increase in costs for new students.

Dietz replied that could be a challenge with at least a few fees already are dedicated to projects for which the university has issued bonds. But he pledged to have some internal discussions about the suggestion.

Trustee Kathy Bohn said she would like figures about food costs that have gone up during the pandemic and the additional costs for cleaning, sanitizing and other safety measures to reduce spread of the virus. Bohn, who is a medical doctor, suggested those increased costs might justify higher room and board fees.

After the meeting, Dietz indicated he would be happy if ISU could maintain its fall 2020 enrollment  of 20,720 students, but he thinks enrollment will be influenced by what happens with vaccination and positivity rates for the rest of the spring and summer.

Dietz admitted, “I think that (20,720 students) is optimistic. We have been closing the gap between where we’ve been and where we were last year.” He added, “If we are within a couple of percentage points of where we were last year, I think it would be a huge victory because a lot of places are reporting they’re down and they’re down fairly dramatically.”

To date, deposits on fall tuition are down by 192 from the same time a year ago, he said.

Engineering program, new nursing simulation lab

Trustees also heard more about financing and building needs to expand programs that administrators say will grow enrollment and help meet workforce needs in engineering and nursing.

Next month, trustees will be asked to approve adding an electrical and mechanical engineering program, and endorse moving ahead with plans to construct a new Mennonite College of Nursing simulation lab, classrooms and faculty offices next to the current lab on Normal Avenue, north of Bone Student Center.

Architect rendering of two story building to house a simulation lab for Mennonite College of Nursing
Credit Colleen Reynolds / WGLT
Architect rendering of the future Mennonite College of Nursing simulation lab.  The additional space has the opportunity to serve 450 to 500 students and provide faculty offices and student collaboration spaces.

Vice President Stepens said the two-story building would cost between $13.6 million and $16.4 million and could increase enrollment in the nursing program by as many as 320 students -- adding to the current enrollment of 400. In the future, ISU plans to move the College of Nursing out of Edwards Hall into what would be a new building on land housing a parking lot that is across from the existing simulation lab.

Mennonite Nursing College Dean Judy Neubrander said the new simulation lab is the most pressing need.

“The simulation lab right now is what makes sense, what we can afford and what we need right now to grow with a future out there of another building as we continue to grow. I think it’s a good step,” she said.

The board also learned rehabbing several spaces on campus carries a price tag of $14 million.

The conversion of space will provide temporary locations for students, faculty and staff during construction of a new Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts Facility. The remodel projects will include space at Milner Library that trustees learned will extend the time until ISU can move forward with plans for a Student Success Center at the library.

Plans for the center were put on hold during the pandemic. Board chair Jones said she wants more details about how long the Student Success Center will remain on hold, now that the library space is being rehabed for temporary use during  the Fine Arts building construction. 

“I want to make sure it’s not being pushed back too far,” she said.

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