Illinois Higher Ed Money Diverted to University Pension Fund

While Illinois increases its higher education spending by 12 percent, a new study by the Illinois State University has found that a large proportion of this money will not be used to benefit students — and will, instead, top up the pension program.

The additional funding for the 2012 fiscal year is going into the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), which is responsible for the pensions of the state's university employees, in an attempt to address its vastly under-funded pension program, writes Andrew Thomason at the Alton Telegraph.

"These SURS appropriations do not go to individual institutions or agencies and are not available to be used for educational purposes," says the study.

SURS is currently carrying a $17.2 billion liability after decades of "under-funding" by legislators and reduced returns in investment.

However, while this increase in funding by the University will look to make up for that, students are also being asked to pick up the bill for much of the rising cost of classrooms.

Students in 2011 paid 30 percent more for a year of college than students at the university four years prior. In 2007, the cost was $13,496; last year it was $18,189.

But while it's regrettable that students seem to be shouldering even more costs, that's not the SURS' fault, says officials.

Beth Spencer, a spokeswoman for SURS, said:

"The state has systematically over decades failed to fully pay the annual required contribution."

IBHE Deputy Director Alan Philips said that an increasing tuition and student fees have become an "ugly reality" for universities, who must exist on less federal funding.

"With the cost of education increasing, with the requirement to serve more students increasing, with the state funding decreasing, there's not many places that you make up the difference," he said.

This comes after University of Illinois announced that they would raise tuition costs for incoming freshmen next year, leaving new students with a price tag nearly 12 percent higher than in 2009, writes the Huffington Post.

With this hike included, the annual cost of attendance at the Urbana-Champaign campus will come to over $24,000.

University President Michael Hogan blamed the hike on the "problematic" future of state funding, emphasizing that the bigger price tag represents a policy "which addresses the importance of accessibility" while ensuring the school can cover its costs, the Associated Press reports.

The new tuition hike was agreed on unanimously by officials, with the only dissent coming from student trustee Kenneth Thomas — the only student on the board.

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