How to cut tuition at the U. of I.: ESPN

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Big Ten sports at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana will get a big boost in income from ESPN.

I have solved the college tuition problem, and it was easy. OK, not exactly. I haven’t solved it for every college. But I have solved it for the University of Illinois, Urbana, or UIUC.OPINION

The problem, of course, is that the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed.  Students, and their families, are getting buried deeper and deeper in debt trying to pay for college. Public universities, once havens of affordable, quality college education, have been hit the hardest. Almost every state in America has cut, and/or is cutting funding for higher education. It is a problem that has fast become a national crisis.

But I have solved it.

President Obama has an idea for a solution. He wants to give everyone two years of college, tuition-free. It’s a great solution, except for one small problem: He has no idea how to pay for it. Right now, it’s a pipe dream.

But my solution doesn’t have that problem. I know exactly how to pay for it. In fact, not only do I know how to pay for it, it will cost nothing.

My solution does not require even one additional taxpayer dollar. It doesn’t require state legislators to reallocate any of their funds, or raise taxes, or have to find any additional revenue. Not one additional state or federal dollar is necessary.

And there’s more.

The university will not have to make one single cut. Not even one employee will have to lose his or her job, not one program, major, or class will have to be eliminated. No furloughs. Not one salary will have to be lowered. Everything at the university will be exactly as it is today.

Well, not everything. There will be one change. The athletic department is actually going to get more money. That’s right, they’re going to get a raise.

Not. One. Single. Cut. More revenue for sports. And tuition will be lower.

How much lower?

Here at the University of Illinois, Urbana, 25 percent lower base tuition and fees for all in-state juniors. Or, 25 percent lower base tuition for all in-state seniors. Not bad, huh?

It can work pretty much the same at every other school in the Big Ten conference, too. Probably many other state schools as well. There are, of course, other ways the savings could be divided up; this is just one way.

OK, I admit it’s not a perfect solution. A 25 percent tuition cut certainly isn’t as good as a 50 percent tuition cut. And a one-year discount isn’t as good as a four-year discount. So it’s not perfect. But on the other hand, it doesn’t cost a thing.

And, as promised, it’s easy. As easy as four letters.

E S P N.

That’s right, the sports television network.

ESPN can become both “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” and “The Worldwide Leader in Tuition Relief.”

Here’s how:

Beginning this year, all schools with a Division I football team will receive a cut of an unprecedented cash windfall thanks to ESPN’s new $7 billion contract to broadcast the college football playoffs.

That’s “b” as in billion.

For the 14 schools in the Big Ten (that’s not a typo; don’t ask), the estimate is that, starting this year, their cut will be an additional $24 million per year. That’s on top of the nearly $27 million the schools are already receiving from the Big Ten conference.

And the best news is, teams don’t have to make the playoffs to get the payoff. They don’t even have to win any games. They don’t have to do anything. The schools are just going to get the money.

That’s an extra $24 million per year, minimum, free and clear, no strings attached, coming to UIUC.  That money could easily be used to provide long-overdue tuition relief for Illinois families.

But what about the athletic department, you might ask?

Well, without this new money, the athletic department already has enough to pay the three highest public employee salaries in the entire state: the head football and basketball coaches, at $1.8 million per year each; and the athletic director, $568,000 per year, before his bonuses.  Plus, six of the nine highest-paid employees at UIUC are in the athletic department (in order: the head football coach, men’s head basketball coach, athletic director, football offensive coordinator, football defensive coordinator, and women’s head basketball coach).

Clearly, they’re already doing pretty well.

Not only that, the athletic department also collects a mandatory fee every semester from every student. So tuition-paying parents have already been paying for athletics.

Isn’t it time to give those parents a break?

But no one is going to touch any of that income. The athletic department will continue to keep all the revenue they have now. No cuts. We can share this new money by actually giving athletics a 10 percent raise in their conference income and still lower tuition by 25 percent.

That’s a win-win no matter how you look at it.

Like I said, this is not a pipe dream. It’s real, and it can be done. You can find all the details of this plan at

So here it is, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that’s never been done in the lifetime of the University of Illinois, Urbana: lower tuition.

Twenty-five percent lower tuition for all in-state juniors or seniors.

More money for sports.

No cost.

No cuts.

Everybody wins.

It can be done, but only with your help. Your job is simply to contact the U of I Board of Trustees ( and ask them to do it.

For a 25 percent tuition discount, that’s pretty easy.

Jay Rosenstein is a Center for Advanced Study Professor of Journalism and Media & Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

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