By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — It’s a good thing Illinois’ second largest public university enrolled its largest freshman class in two decades.
Someone is going to have to pay for those $101,000-a-year average salaries for professors at Southern Illinois University.
SIU’s main campus in Carbondale has had to turn to tuition dollars to pay more of the school’s bills, as state dollars have faded away during the past decade.
“Of course there is a correlation between the number of students you have and your budget,” SIU’s chief of marketing and communications Rae Goldsmith told Illinois Watchdog. “But that’s not the sole reason you go out and recruit students.”
Tution now covers 24 percent of SIU’s nearly $600 million budget. A decade ago, tuition paid just 17 percent of SIU’s bills and way back in 1968 students only covered 4 percent of the costs.
But students have been asked to pay for more as the state taxpayers have paid for less.
State lawmakers sent SIU $153 million last yea. SIU got $152 million back in 1995.
“Affordability is important,” Goldsmith said. “SIU is looking at alternative revenue sources and looking at fundraising. The goal is to minimize future tuition increases.”
Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard has said he fears that the rising cost of a college education will leave many working families without a chance to go to school.
Goldsmith said that in addition to affordability, SIU is looking at retention.
“It’s important that we not only bring in students, but we keep them,” Goldsmith said.
SIU says it is proud the class of 2017 is one of the best prepared group of students SIU has seen in years.
“(The freshman class) average ACT score is a full point higher than a year ago. The average high school grade point average of the freshman class has increased each year since 2010,” SIU said in a statement crowing about the new class of students.
SIU will need to count on those good grades going into the future. Nearly 40 percent of students will drop out between their first and second years. Only 24 percent of SIU students will graduate in four years. If you give students six years, which SIU insists is the proper measuring stick, just 47 percent of freshman will graduate.
Which brings SIU back to its original problem of dealing with a shrinking amount of money.
“The main sources for (public) universities are state funding and tuition dollars,” Goldsmith said.
All of Illinois’ public universities have raised tuition over the past two decades, as Illinois’ public-pension costs have skyrocketed and put the squeeze on the state’s budget.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.