Consistent with a regional trend among community colleges, Harper College will soon ask its students to dig a little deeper into their pockets for the costs of a higher education.
The college's board of trustees last week unanimously approved increasing tuition by $2 per credit hour beginning in the summer 2013 term. For a full-time student taking 30 credit hours annually, that's an additional $60, for a total of $3,735.
The hike was necessary, officials at the Palatine-based community college said, due partly to the state's declining financial support.
"Through small tuition increases and our commitment to running the college as efficiently as possible, we've been able to weather the storm without compromising the academic quality and rigor that Harper is known for," Harper President Ken Ender said.
The increase is the first since the board adopted a policy last year linking tuition hikes to the rate of inflation. Under the policy, trustees can raise tuition 2 percentage points above the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers, up to a 5 percent cap.
In this case, the board decided to stick with the 1.7 percent CPI-U rate. Including the technology and construction fees students pay, Harper's tuition will total $124.50 per credit hour.
"It's been our philosophy to have smaller increases over time rather than waiting and then hitting students with a big increase all at once," spokesman Phil Burdick said.
While Oakton Community College in Des Plaines has yet to set rates for the upcoming school year, five other local community colleges plan to increase tuition.
The most expensive option remains College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, which last week approved raising tuition and fees to $140 per credit hour. Administrators cited the need to cover employee salary raises. Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and Elgin Community College also approved hikes in recent weeks.
Slightly smaller proposals are on the table at College of Lake County and McHenry County College, which will consider raising tuition by $3 per credit hour for a total of $115 and $102 including fees, respectively.
Burdick said Harper's move will generate an estimated $600,000 in additional revenue for general fund expenses.
Administrators recently made their case to the Student Senate, but the group ultimately declined its support. President Laura Licari of Barrington cast the tiebreaker in a 6-5 vote. Student Trustee Clara Moravec, who votes in an advisory capacity, also sided with the Senate majority.
"Tuition has been increased each of the last three years, and students at some point start to feel enough is enough," Licari, 18, said.
"We understand the position the college is in, but there are definitely some concerns about the financial burden."
Despite the increase, Harper officials said rates remain about a third of tuition costs at Northern Illinois University, a quarter of the University of Illinois and an even smaller fraction of a private university.
They also reminded students that the increase will be covered for those eligible for financial aid under the federal Pell Grant Program and the Illinois Monetary Award Program.
Last year, nearly 6,700 Harper students qualified for $31.1 million in financial aid, while more than 300 students received $350,000 in scholarships from the Harper College Educational Foundation.