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Nationwide Data: Illinois Public Universities Cost More, Graduate Fewer

WOSU Public Media

College in Illinois is becoming more expensive on average, and fewer students are graduating from the state’s large public universities. That’s according to a decade’s-worth of federal education data.

Peter D’Amato of education news outlet The Hechinger Report helped put the data together for an online tool called Tuition Tracker. Among other things, the tool tracked the net price of schools across the country since 2009. Since then, average student costs to attend some of Illinois’ largest public universities have gone up.

D'Amato says it highlights the problems Illinois higher ed has faced for years.

“These schools are under a pretty intense strain as college enrollment slags off to continue to attract a pretty robust and competitive student body,” he explained.

The strain, as the data shows, has mostly fallen on Illinois’ public universities. Schools such as Northern, Southern and Western Illinois universities were among the hardest hit when the state legislature failed to pass a budget for nearly three years.

D'Amato says Illinois’ budget woes and under-funding of higher education for years have led to enrollment dips and price hikes at some of Illinois' largest public universities. Since the 2009-2010 school year, those price hikes have amounted to double-digit percentage increases across student income brackets in some cases. At times, prices have climbed higher than the rate of inflation.

"If states are cutting or not fully funding need-based programs and other grant programs," D'Amato explained, "they’re gonna see the net prices go up or stay flat for some of these students in specific income brackets.”

Price hikes haven't necessarily been the norm at Illinois’ large private institutions, however. Since 2009, schools like DePaul and Northwestern have managed to both lower their prices on average and graduate slightly more students.

Overall, the data also shows more Illinois students are receiving financial aid than a decade ago, and both private and public schools are providing more money

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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