Prepaid tuition a risky gamble

By Editorial Board

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan recently announced a state probe of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission regarding its management of the College Illinois prepaid college tuition program. The program allows families to pre-purchase a certain number of college semesters at state universities and community colleges to lock in current rates and avoid future tuition increases. However, the state doesn’t guarantee a return on parents’ investments in the program if its funding runs out. The state probe will look into the Commission’s investment of program funds into risky assets. College Illinois tried to invest in real estate and hedge funds to make up for being 31 percent underfunded.

The commission has since changed the way it invests its money, but the attention it received was enough to draw the whole program’s viability into question. Rather than paying into a program that isn’t guaranteed to cover their children’s tuition, parents would be better off saving independently for their education. That way, they don’t limit their kids’ educational options, and they can cover tuition costs even if they decide to go out of state or attend a private college.

The state needs to find a more effective way to cover college costs so parents who do pay into the program can be confident it will pay off. Restricting the age at which parents can begin to prepay for their children would allow the state to more confidently guarantee a return on their investments.

Tuition prices go up for a reason. State colleges and universities have daily operational costs just like any other institution. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign increased from $8,624 for the 2005–2006 school year to $13,508 for 2010–2011. Expecting an outdated tuition rate to cover a modern-day student’s time in college is wildly unrealistic. If parents could prepay for tuition when their children are in ninth grade or above, it would make costs more manageable for everyone while providing some savings for frugal families.

Despite the program’s recent shift to a more secure investment strategy, Illinois parents should look for more reliable ways to pay for their children’s education. Safer investing on the part of College Illinois doesn’t change the fact that the program is underfunded and parents can lose their investments if it goes under. Unless the state can find a way to secure the prepaid tuition program’s funding and guarantee a return on families’ investments, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth

the gamble.