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updated: 2/20/2014 6:12 PM

Harper College trustees approve tuition increase

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As community colleges try to hold the line on student expenses despite declining support from the state, Harper College officials have signed off on a tuition increase tied to inflation.

The board voted unanimously this week to raise tuition by $1.75 per credit hour to $110.25 beginning this summer term. That means a full-time student taking 30 credit hours will pay an extra $52.50 per year for a total of $3,787.50.

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Officials say the increase -- expected to generate about $520,000 annually -- will help the Palatine-based community college compensate for the continued loss of dollars from Springfield.

"Given the state's financial picture, it's probably not realistic for us to think a windfall is going to come," Harper President Ken Ender said. "It's more about how are we going to figure out how we are going to sustain our resources."

Student government backed the tuition hike.

"It was very, very reasonable compared to other community colleges in the area," said Amirah Nasir, president of the student organization and a Streamwood sophomore.

Technology and construction fees -- $16 per credit hour -- stayed the same.

Harper's tuition rate remains more affordable than College of DuPage, which currently is at $140 including fees, and College of Lake County, which currently charges $112. Elgin Community College currently charges $109. At Oakton Community College, tuition will jump 16 percent over the next two years in a move approved by the Des Plaines-based school's administrators earlier this week. Its rate for next year is $103.25 excluding fees.

The increase is the second at Harper since the board adopted a policy in 2012 that connects tuition raises to the rate of inflation. Trustees can bump tuition by 2 percentage points above the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers up to a 5 percent cap. Officials opted to keep the increase aligned with the CPI-U rate of 1.5 percent.

"The board has been looking for a tool to make the increases in tuition more predictable to students," Ender said.

The 39 community colleges across the state continue to grapple with less state financing.

Under the original vision shaping Illinois community colleges, state funding was intended to make up a third of the per capita costs of running the institution.

At Harper, the state's share has fallen to 4.5 percent -- a record low since the school began operating in 1967, officials say.

"As managers, we have got to tighten our belt straps because its going to be a challenge to manage our expenses," Ender said.

Financial aid will cover the tuition increase for eligible students through the federal Pell Grant Program and the state Monetary Award Program. Last year, more than $25 million in financial aid went to about 8,400 Harper students.

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