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Indiana lawmakers say rising tuition at state universities is keeping Hoosiers from getting college degrees, but public university leaders say decreased state aid is forcing their hand.
Republican and Democratic budget leaders on the panel bemoaned that in-state tuition jumped from an average of 12 percent of Hoosiers' incomes in 2000 to expectations it will account for 19 percent of average income by 2013.
"It is much harder to send your kid to school today than it was 20 years ago," said State Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R- Uniondale.
Indiana University President Michael McRobbie said the state's largest university system has stretched to cover its costs as state aid dropped from an average of $6,200 per full-time student in 2002 to $5,500 in the most recent budget.
"In spite of that drop in aid, we are doing more with less," McRobbie said.
William Cast, chairman of the Indiana University Board of Trustees, said much of the system's increased spending has been used to replace aging buildings and infrastructure.
"The longer you defer them, the bigger the bill gets," said Cast, who was reappointed to a third term on the board by Gov. Mitch Daniels in June.
The trustees voted in May to approve a package of tuition and fees that raised student costs by at least 5.5 percent.
Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, said that while he doesn't want to see state aid level out, he did think universities have been spending more than they can afford.
"They should not be looking at a filet mignon budget if all they can afford is a hamburger," Crawford said.
The state's Commission for Higher Education recommended in May that Indiana's public universities limit tuition increases to between 2.5 and 3.5 percent over the next two years. But the commission's recommendations are only that: recommendations. Legislators declined earlier this year to mandate the universities adhere to limits set by the commission.
Officials from Purdue University, Vincennes University, Indiana State University and Ivy Tech Community College described similar scenarios during the lengthy hearing.
Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora described efforts to reduce the number of credits students need for a degree, improve counseling and offer cheaper summer courses so they graduate with less debt.
"We have tried to control costs," Gora said. "Tuition is going up because the state share of costs is going down."
Ball State raised its tuition 3.9 percent for undergraduates this year and 9 percent for graduate students.