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updated: 8/21/2012 5:01 PM

College Illinois tuition program to resume Oct. 1

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Associated Press

The state's College Illinois prepaid tuition program will soon be back in business.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission voted last week to reopen College Illinois on Oct. 1 and tentatively plans an $800,000 ad campaign to promote the program, spokesman John Samuels told Crain's Chicago Business on Monday.

College Illinois lets parents buy contracts to lock in tuition costs at public universities years before students go to college. The commission stopped selling contracts last fall after a study found the fund had a 30 percent shortfall and management problems came to light.

Samuels acknowledges that the $1 billion investment fund backing roughly 50,000 contracts remains underfunded by 30 percent, but he said the commission's leadership has been overhauled and is working to make sure its operations are more transparent.

The commission is relaunching College Illinois now to show that they are committed to the program's future, Samuels said.

"We've got to get back in the marketplace," he said.

An audit released in May found that College Illinois was beset by shoddy management, including possible conflicts of interest by top officials, as it went underfunded and administrative costs tripled. The audit found that the commission circumvented rules for hiring investors and instead engaged in a process "that lacked consistency, transparency, independence, documentation and compliance" with state law.

By that point, Gov. Pat Quinn had cleaned house at the commission and the program's new managers quickly embraced Auditor General William Holland's findings and pointed out the actions they had taken to fix the problems.

State Rep. Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, has been a leading critic of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission in the past but said he supports resuming contract sales now.

"The reform of College Illinois was never considered a sprint. It's more of a marathon," said Durkin, who holds a College Illinois contract on behalf of his daughter. "It's going to be up to ISAC to go out and sell the program."

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