The concept of affordable public universities is being questioned, the president of the University of Illinois says. Robert Easter looks at the U. of I., where 40 years ago, in-state tuition and fees cost 6½ percent of the average household income. Now it’s 30 percent, and it’s not going down if state funding stays where it is.

“In inflation-adjusted dollars, our reduction in state funding today is back to 1965 levels, a time when we enrolled half the number of students that we do today. It’s not sustainable. Tuition has increased to fill the gap, and that’s not sustainable,” he said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago.

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Easter says that in the 1960s, state funding covered half the usual operating costs at the U. of I. These days, it covers 15 percent.

Easter also laments the deterioration of the partnership between the states and the federal government in the funding of research at state universities. He says the glory days were in the post-World War 2 era, “an era that fueled. I would argue, the rise of the University of Illinois, but also American education and America itself, as our economy advanced after the Second World War,” he said.

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