CARBONDALE — College hasn’t been affordable to anyone working a minimum wage job since the 1980s. Even with a full-time 40-hour-a-week job, the average person would have had to devote at least 36 weeks of pay to cover the cost of tuition and fees in 2010.

Those were two among several distressing bits of data from the Illinois Student Assistance Comm-ission officials heard Thursday afternoon, during a community hearing on college affordability. The event was hosted by state Sen. Michael Frerichs,

D-Champaign, at the SIU Carbondale Student Center. He was joined by SIU President Glenn Poshard, state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, and representatives from Southern Illinois community colleges.

Illinois ranks fifth highest in the nation for college tuition and fee rates, according to ISAC figures. It also ranks high among states that provide financial aid to college students, but the money just isn’t going as far as it used to.

Universities are increasing tuition and fees on students as public aid for higher education continues to face cuts as Illinois comes to grips with its various financial troubles.

Poshard said tuition rates at SIU have risen about 6.8 percent in the last decade, below the state average but still making affordability tougher on low- and middle-income students with each passing year. President Abraham Lincoln was said of universities they represent the people’s right to rise, Poshard said.

“The question is whether higher education these days still represents the people’s right to rise?” he added.

Frerichs has been hosting community hearings on college affordability in hopes of finding solutions to stem rising costs. SIU, he said, was a natural stop in this mission, given its service to low-income students and its tradition of keeping costs lower than many other state public universities.

“We would be making a huge mistake as a state, if we just have higher education available for those who are wealthy,” he said.

It’s not possible to guarantee all students the same outcomes in college, but the opportunity should be there, Frerichs added.

The state senator is set to host five more hearings around the state, including on the SIU Edwardsville campus today.

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