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Baker Report: Keeping NIU accessible and affordable

November 7, 2014
NIU President Doug Baker

NIU President Doug Baker

It is no secret that for more than a decade, cuts in state higher education funding have led to an increasing dependence on student dollars to finance university enterprises across the country, and Illinois has been no exception.

During that time, college tuition and fee costs have increased 40 percent more than the average, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

Simply put, prices for higher education have reached the point where America’s middle class is beginning to get squeezed out out of higher education. We can’t let this happen. In fact, we need to explore innovative ways to reduce cost to students and increase opportunity for social mobility.

At Northern Illinois University, we have actively undertaken efforts to hold the line in terms of cost of attendance, which for the purpose of this report equals tuition + fees + room and board. Last year, by dropping room rates, NIU was able to hold that cost constant.

During Thursday’s NIU Board of Trustees Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee meeting, the committee discussed recommendations that will streamline and simplify the university pricing structure, resulting in a system that encourages college completion by capping tuition costs for new students at 12 credit hours.

What this means is that incoming students would pay the same tuition cost if they take 12 credit hours, 15 hours or 18 or more hours. In fact, a new student enrolled in 16 hours will pay about $200 less in tuition than the previous year.

Another result of this plan is that tuition costs per credit hour will drop for every returning student, and tuition costs would be capped at 14 credit hours, again encouraging students to enroll in more classes per semester.

Photo of a calculator, checkbook and hand holding a penThird, the recommendation contains a restructuring of the fee mechanism that results in a simpler, easier-to-understand bill that is intended to provide more clarity.

Finally, the recommendations include elimination of the most costly meal plan, meaning the published room and board rate will drop by $800.

If approved by the full board approval in December, these changes would be effective for the Fall 2015 semester. We want our students to complete their degrees in four years, and by capping tuition costs, we encourage students to take larger course loads and receive greater value while making more progress toward their degree.

This is big. The state of Illinois is the second largest exporter of high school students in the country, and by making a college degree more affordable for the residents of our state, it is our hope we can make a quality NIU education more accessible for those in the region we serve.

Forward together,