May 22, 2012
The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to end the Legislative Scholarship Program as of September 1, 2012—allowing lawmakers one more opportunity to award the controversial tuition waivers before they are eliminated.
House Bill 3810, as amended by the Senate, was approved by the House on May 21, 2012 by a vote of 79 to 32. In addition to ending the legislative tuition waivers as of this fall, the bill also establishes a task force to review all tuition and fee waivers granted by the State. Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement that he plans to sign the legislation.
As discussed here, HB3810 passed the Illinois House of Representatives in April 2012 by a vote of 79-25. The bill would have eliminated the discretionary legislative tuition waivers as of June 1, 2012.
The State’s School Code currently permits each of the State's 177 lawmakers to award the equivalent of two four-year waivers to public universities annually. The only qualifications for the program are that prospective students would otherwise be accepted for admission by the university and that they live inside the district of the legislator who approves the waiver.
The State does not appropriate funding to pay for the waivers so the universities must absorb the cost of the scholarship. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) estimates that legislative waivers in FY2011 cost State universities $13.5 million.
Two amendments to HB3810 were filed by Senate President John Cullerton, and the amended version of the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 43-5-5 on May 3, 2012. The amendments extend the scholarships until September 1, 2012 and create a task force to review all tuition waivers granted by State universities. Extending the deadline allows waivers to be granted for one more fiscal year before they are eliminated.
The new Tuition and Fee Waiver Task Force established in the amendments will review all waivers granted by the State to verify that they are in the public interest and that their cost is not excessive. The 49,157 waivers had an estimated total value of $415.0 million in FY2011, according the IBHE’s annual report to the General Assembly on tuition and fee waivers. Only 16.1% of total waivers are mandated by the legislature through statute; the remaining 87.8% are discretionary waivers handed out by individual institutions.
Legislative scholarships are the second largest mandatory waiver. Waivers for veterans are the largest category of tuition benefits mandated by the State and totaled $28.7 million in FY2011. Together these make up more than half of the $66.6 million in statutorily mandated tuition waivers. Discretionary waivers granted by individual universities total $348.3 million. The largest category of discretionary waivers is tuition benefits granted to graduate assistants, teaching assistants and other assistants. Waivers for university assistants are estimated to have cost $225.8 million in FY2011.
The task force will be specifically charged with reviewing all tuition benefits and asked to consider the following issues:
The institution's justification for the program;
The program's intended purposes and goals;
The program's eligibility and selection criteria;
The program's costs;
The purported benefits resulting from the program; and
Whether the program serves the public interest or advances a private interest.
The panel will have eight members, two each appointed by the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the Minority Leader of the House and the Minority Leader of the Senate. The group will have a deadline of April 13, 2013 to submit its report.