College of DuPage board freezes student tuition, fees

Tuition and fees will remain flat this fall at College of DuPage, despite calls from some who say costs for students should be reduced.

Board members at the Glen Ellyn-based community college voted 5-1 Thursday night to keep tuition at $140 per credit hour for in-district students. That amount includes fees.

Illinois students coming from outside the district to attend COD will continue paying $327 per credit hour.

Board Chairman Erin Birt touted the tuition freeze as a way to “open up higher education to many students who might otherwise be unable to attend college due to escalating costs.”

But Trustee Kathy Hamilton, who voted against the measure, said the college could “easily” reduce tuition because it has a healthy reserve fund.

“As long as we have the $180 million in the bank, we should neither raise tuition nor taxes,” Hamilton said to her fellow board members. “Consider a cut, really. Your tuition and tax hikes have insulted taxpayers and students.”

Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the government finance watchdog group For The Good of Illinois and the transparency website, accused the board of wasting taxpayer money and failing to provide financial oversight.

Thursday night's vote came as the college is dealing with a firestorm of controversy over the $762,868 retirement buyout of school President Robert Breuder's contract. That deal has prompted several state legislators to propose new laws to prevent other public institutions from approving similar agreements. Some are seeking a performance audit of COD finances since 2011.

It also was revealed earlier in the day that a former COD employee was charged with felony theft, accused of stealing from the campus radio station.

Andrzejewski said board members — excluding Hamilton — should resign because of the controversies.

“At a minimum, cut student tuition,” Andrzejewski said. “Don't stick the students with your waste.”

But Trustee Kim Savage said reducing tuition at this time would be “risky” because no one knows what the fallout is going to be from proposed state cuts.

“The landscape of where the state budget and education is going in general is very fluid right now,” Savage said. “While we are in a good cash position ... I want to wait and see.

“There always will be opportunities to lower tuition in the future if our financial position stays positive,” Savage added.

Historically, the state has been responsible for providing one-third of the revenue for community colleges. But COD officials say that just 7.2 percent ($13.1 million) of the funding for the college's current operating budget comes from the state.

State funding could drop more as Illinois works to deal with its budget problems. If Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan to seek $387 million in cuts to higher education becomes a reality, COD officials said, the school could lose between $2.6 million and $3.9 million.

As a result, Trustee Dianne McGuire agreed with Savage that it would be “premature” to reduce tuition and fees.

“I think keeping the tuition flat or frozen at the current rate is a pretty good compromise and a thoughtful position to have right now,” McGuire said.

A significant portion of COD's roughly $181 million operating budget comes from property taxes. The college collected about $109 million in property taxes for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

But the amount of property tax dollars the college will receive next year is expected to remain flat because the board agreed in December to freeze the tax levy. COD officials also cite rising expenses due to increased costs for health insurance and salaries.

Salaries and benefits make up about 72 percent of the college's operating budget.

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