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CARBONDALE - Southern Illinois University's top administrator said Wednesday he backs a 47 percent tuition increase proposed by the Carbondale campus' chancellor.

President James E. Walker said he'll tell trustees on the SIU board today during their regular monthly meeting the hefty increase is sorely needed - and that it'll still keep SIUC as one of the least expensive universities of its type and size.

"SIU has traditionally been at the bottom in comparison to its peer institutions when it comes to tuition and fees," Walker said. "What has happened over time is that SIU would seek tuition increases each year of 3 percent or so … and we would fall further and further behind in terms of the costs of running the university and its upkeep."

"Even with the increase that's proposed, we'll still be at the bottom of our peer groups in terms of tuition and fees," Walker said.

Chancellor Walter Wendler last month first proposed tuition increases of 20 percent beginning fall 2002 and 15 percent each of the next three years.

He scaled that back to increases of 18 percent, 16 percent, 7 percent and 8 percent over the next four years.

About three-fourths of the estimated $8.5 million in new tuition money raised would go toward student assistance programs, including the startup of a "Workships" program in which students would work in jobs related to their fields of study. That program is earmarked to receive $1.5 million.

About $2 million of the increased tuition money would be set aside to cover what Wendler is calling "fiscal challenges," including possibly plugging state budget cutbacks. About $1 million of that total possibly could be used for salary increases for faculty and staff, he continued, but nothing is set in stone.

A 1 percent salary increase would cost about $1 million for the university's nearly 700 teachers.

Walker said he's not sure whether the state's appropriation for SIU will include enough money for faculty and staff salary increases next year.

"We're hopeful the state will find some way to come up with additional funds . . . but the chances of it happening are not looking very good," Walker said.

SIUC is penciled in to receive $168.8 million in state money under Gov. George Ryan's budget proposal - a document likely to change more as the Legislature winds through its spring session. This year SIUC will receive about $172.4 million in state money.

The university also has had to plug a $7.4 million budget gap during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Cuts included the layoffs of 30 physical plant workers.

Today's board meeting will be the first public setting for trustees to weigh in on Wendler's proposal. The meeting will be conducted inside the Delyte W. Morris University Center on SIU's Edwardsville campus - the board rotates its meeting sites each month.

Undergraduate Student Government President Michael Perry said he is offering tacit support for Wendler's revised tuition plan.

"I will have to support this with serious reservations," Perry said. "I'd like to see all of the tuition increase go toward addressing academic quality . . . not to cover budget shortfalls."

steve.binder@thesouthern.com / 618-529-5454 x15072

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