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WIU board approves 3% tuition hike, discusses going higher

Courtesy WIU

Western Illinois University has one of the lowest tuition rates among the state’s public universities. Trustees wonder if WIU could still attract and retain students if its tuition rate was in the middle of the pack.

The Western Illinois University Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to approve a tuition increase for next school year’s new students. But not until after a healthy discussion about what the school could potentially charge.

Trustee Greg Aguilar started the discussion by saying he supported the administration’s proposed 3% increase, but also questioned whether it was large enough.

“I want us to be sustainable, and not just sustainable but thriving. Is it enough? What would happen if we were to go a little bit higher? Maybe not this year but next year if we were to go higher?” he wondered.

Shannon Sutton, WIU’s Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration, responded.

“You’re absolutely correct. If we said how much money do we need, the tuition would be higher. How much can we afford to assess? (We’re) kind of looking at the balance between the two,” she said.

Sutton said WIU increased tuition by 4% for this school year’s new students after several years of no increases – and one year in which the university decreased tuition.

University President Guiyou Huang pointed out Western has one of the lowest tuition rates among the state’s public universities.

Aguilar said he likes that, but wondered if Western could still attract and retain students if its tuition rate was in the middle of the pack.

Aguilar said people are paying higher tuition at other institutions because they find value in it. He urged the administration to conduct a study to see what WIU could charge. He said he would be okay with it if Western’s tuition was in the middle of the pack rather than near the bottom.

“And if we’re towards the top because we can show value as to why we are there, I think that’s winning as well,” he said.

Aguilar also pointed out consumer prices have risen quite a bit since tuition rates were locked in for this past fall’s new students.

Trustee Patrick Twomey said if WIU decides to proceed with a study, it first needs to decide what it wants to be and what it wants to offer.

“The study will show you how much the tuition would have to be in order to marry those two things. Then at least you can make decisions based on the ultimate goal. While we may not be able to get there overnight, maybe over time we could,” he said.

Dr. Huang said branding is also part of the equation.

“My wife worked at Dartmouth College, a tiny town, smaller than Macomb, but the university is world famous. And people go there in droves. They don’t go there for a big city. It’s not Chicago, not even St, Louis. What I’m driving at: we need to define clearly and concisely the value for an education at WIU,” he said, adding that should be accomplished through an outside study and not just internal observations.

Trustee Kisha Lang questioned why the increase for next school year is smaller than the one implemented this year.

“We keep having our employees come up and talking about that they haven’t had raises in a hundred years. That’s exaggerated, but I’m wondering how are we going to go backwards as opposed to just maintaining? Why didn’t we stay with the 4%?” she asked

Lang said some offices have skeleton crews and staff is being overworked because they’re picking up other people’s jobs in addition to their own.

The administration said the 3% tuition rate hike is currently the highest increase among the state’s public universities, though that could change because several have yet to set next year’s tuition.

The BoT ultimately approved the 3% increase unanimously. Administrators said that even with the increase, Western’s tuition will remain among the very lowest in the state.

The BoT also agreed unanimously to increase the double occupancy room and board rate for new students by 3.02%.

The tuition and housing prices will be locked in for four years for undergraduate students entering the university this fall.

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