CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — University of Illinois trustees on Thursday agreed for a second straight year to freeze tuition for in-state students even as they learned the school drew $671 million from cash reserves to make up for the lack of state funding because of a budget deadlock.
The vote at a trustees meeting in Chicago to keep tuition unchanged for in-state freshmen who start classes this fall follows years of criticism from Illinois parents, students and lawmakers that the university had focused too much on recruiting higher-paying out-of-state and international students. But the decision also means foregoing a potential increase in one of the key revenue sources for the school during a period when the university is getting no state money.
University President Timothy Killeen, who recommended trustees approve the tuition plan, noted the decision came "amid ongoing declines in state support and a lingering budget impasse (that) has shut off funding completely for nearly seven months and counting."
Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr told trustees the university is paying $671 million of payroll and state-government grants for lower-income students that the state is not funding right now. The university is using primarily cash reserves and tuition revenue to pay those expenses.
He said agencies that rate the university's credit when it borrows money, determining how much it costs to borrow, are also starting to ask about the financial picture for next year as they evaluate the school's financial stability and ability to repay its debts. Given the budget impasse, he said it's impossible to give them an answer.
"Beyond uncharted waters," Knorr said of the current situation. "Nothing like it, nothing compares."
Thursday's vote means tuition for in-state students starting school this fall will remain at $12,036 a year in Urbana-Champaign, $10,584 in Chicago and $9,405 in Springfield. Under Illinois law, freshmen pay the same tuition for four years.
But housing costs, another big piece of what students pay, will go up for all who live on campus.
Trustees approved a plan to raise the cost of room and board at Urbana-Champaign 2.7 percent to $10,612 a year. At the Chicago campus, those costs would increase 2.2 percent, to $10,960. In Springfield the cost would rise by just under 1 percent to $7,400.
In all, a year at the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus for an instate student would run $22,648 for tuition, room and board. That does not include fees or other living expenses that drive the cost of a four-year degree to well over $100,000.
Tuition has become a source of concern for students across the country. Increases at many state schools are often blamed in part on declining government support. Tuition increased 71 percent at the Urbana-Champaign campus between 2005 and last year.
But the campus has also tried to increase revenue by recruiting high-paying out-of-state or international students. International students pay $28,000 a year in tuition, and their numbers have risen 81 percent since 2008.
The school has noted that in-state enrollment increased after last fall's tuition freeze and a move to accept lower admissions-test scores. In 2015, 5,490 freshmen from Illinois enrolled, up from 4,927 a year earlier.
Higher education is a key point of disagreement in the budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
A Rauner staff member earlier this month sent lawmakers a memo in which he accused public universities of waste and failing to cut their own costs as the state struggles to cover a multibillion-dollar gap between its revenue and spending.
University presidents including Killeen answered with a letter urging the passage of a budget before what they called irreparable harm is done.
While the University of Illinois has money to fall back on to cover expenses, Chicago State University has said it will run out of money in March.
And many community colleges say they lack the money to make up for what the state is not providing. Parkland College in Champaign on Wednesday tentatively approved a 12 percent tuition increase to help deal with a $3.5 million budget deficit. The college had anticipated a $5.1 million state appropriation.
University leaders say they also are taking steps to cut costs on campus. Killeen on Thursday told trustees that an ongoing program to cut administrative costs had so far found $40 million in savings.