Structural Deficits at UofI 2019

During the January 2019 polar vortex, a Chicago Tribune headline said “University of Illinois plans in-state tuition freeze for 5th straight year.” The real headline should have been: “UI Trustees once again force campuses to raise fees” because that same day the chancellors at the Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Chicago (UIC) campuses announced fees would go up in 2020: UIUC about 1% while UIC would be 3.6%.


For UIC students, the many fees excluding health care now add up to about $3,300 a year on top of the nearly $11,000 paid in tuition. Besides shifting the cost burden from “frozen tuition” to student fees, UIC has also come to rely on charging students a “differential.” This euphemistically named surcharge currently adds on average another $2,000 for undergraduates and $6,000 for graduate students annually.


While the administration says a differential is charged when “the cost of instruction or teaching facilities is more expensive than what the base tuition recovers,” nearly every degree at UIC charges a differential and for most it is essential to keep the lights on.


Additionally, departments are being asked to GROW so they can bring in more tuition! But record breaking enrollment has not meant an increase in faculty. Instead, class sizes have doubled and tripled. With more students, faculty have less time per student.


As UIC faculty are being told the salary “funding bucket” is not full enough to offer even modest pay raises let alone hire more faculty, we have to ask a serious question: why are UIC students being told to pony up and faculty to tighten their belts?


This is not a plea to charge higher tuition! The charge is to hold accountable the UI Board of Trustees (BoT) and President for the structural deficit (i.e., a fundamental imbalance between revenues and expenses) their funding model has created and the toll it is taking on UIC.


Yes, there has been a significant disinvestment in public education in Illinois over the past 20 years, plus a period with no state budget. Yet, President Killeen likes to brag about investing over a billion dollars in facilities and now plans to do even more including the Discovery Partners Institute in the new 78 development and a new UIC campus plan.


Clearly, a moral decision has been made to invest in facilities rather than faculty. The decision to divide and allocate UI revenues into capital and operations has been at the complete discretion of the BoT since 2010.[1] Moving forward, the revenue pie could be divided differently to provide more for operations and unavoidable expenses like faculty salaries.


UIUC and UIC are both in the same top class of 131 Carnegie classified “Research-1” universities based on their very high level of research but somehow UIUC continues to function on its tuition income, while UIC struggles. Perhaps, the difference is that unlike UIUC a majority of UIC students are low income and PELL grant eligible. Most rely on Monetary Assistance Program grants from the state, and they often work multiple jobs. They are also diverse, smart and deserving of a quality education they can afford from teachers who are treated with respect.


The promise of a first-class education at UIC is critical to the fabric and future of this city. It’s time the public holds the UI President and Trustees accountable for the shell-games that have increased student burden while keeping faculty salaries down. We need to prioritize more resources from the system to UIC to directly benefit students and faculty above investments in shiny new things that can strain operations in the future and have real potential to make things worse.


Janet L Smith, PhD
Professor, Urban Planning and Policy Department
Co-Director, Nathalie P Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement
President, UIC United Faculty, Local #6456, AFT-IFT, AAUP, AFL-CIO
University of Illinois at Chicago


[1] The UI system has not had any direct capital allocations from the state since 2010 other than the $500 million commitment for DPI, which is dependent on raising private funds to match it.