U. of I. president seeks plan to shore up state funding

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Students walk across the Quad on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana in October 2015. | Heather Coit /The News-Gazette via AP

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois president is pursuing an agreement with state leaders that would guarantee the school multi-year funding in exchange for controls on tuition increases and other benchmarks.

For months, Timothy Killeen has informally discussed the idea as a way to provide financial stability for the university amid the state’s budget crisis. State Sen. Bill Cunningham and state Rep. Michael Zalewski were expected to file legislation Thursday that would lock in both the appropriation and limits on tuition increases for five years.

“We fully understand it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of conversations, maybe some give and take,” university spokesman Tom Hardy said Wednesday. “We’re past the election, we’re coming up on the new legislative session after the first of the year. We’ve got to launch something at some point.”

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen | Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen | Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP

University officials have talked with the other state universities, legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s staff about the plan, he said.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz was not available for comment but spokesman Jay Groves confirmed Dietz had been part of discussions about the University of Illinois proceeding with its plan.

A spokeswoman for Rauner did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the bill, the state appropriation for the University of Illinois’ three campuses would be set at $662 million for fiscal 2018 and increase each year by the rate of inflation before expiring in 2022. The money is about 12 percent of the university’s $5.64 billion budget and is the same as it was in 2015. That was the last year Illinois’ public universities received full state funding before the budget dispute between Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly took off.

The university also would receive an exemption from the state procurement code, the provisions of which the university argues make its purchasing process unwieldy and inefficient.

In exchange, the school would commit to raising tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students only by the rate of inflation. Rising tuition is a concern across the country, and the cost of tuition, room and board for four years has topped $100,000 at the university’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign.

The university also would agree to spend about 12.5 percent of its appropriation on financial aid — essentially the level it spends now — and set aside an additional $15 million aimed at students from underserved populations, Hardy said.

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