SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois lawmaker wants to restructure the state's prepaid college tuition program before it runs out of money.
Legislators have expressed concern about the College Illinois program, which allows families to prepay for a college education at today's rates. The program faces an unfunded liability of $448.5 million.
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said the program will run into trouble down the road if lawmakers don't intervene.
"College Illinois' most recent actuarial report revealed that unless the program is reformed, the program will have to sell between 1,000 and 2,000 contracts annually in order to make itself solvent," he said. "Anytime you have a program that is dependent on attracting new investors in order to meet the obligations of current investors, I think it gives you pause."
Since it got its start in 1998, the program has helped more than 25,000 students pay $494 million in tuition costs.
Eric Zamikow, executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which oversees College Illinois, said officials have asked the General Assembly for money to help market the program but were turned down last year.
He said the program will run out of money in 2023 if no new contracts are signed, which would force the commission to then ask lawmakers and the governor for a bailout.
"There is money in the plan for at least the next 10 years," Zamikow said.
Barickman's proposal would offer current investors several options for keeping, changing or eliminating their existing plan.
Another measure would require that public universities and colleges sign off on the program's projected tuition and mandatory fees to ensure that the state's investments are based on realistic figures.
"I think ISAC readily admits that they cannot predict future tuition rates, and that's the challenge that they're tasked with," he said.
He acknowledged that rapidly increasing costs of education coupled with inconsistent levels of state funding would make it difficult for universities to predict future prices, but he said that it's helpful to include universities in the discussion.
Despite its problems, Zamikow defended the program.
"We think it's a product that's valuable for the state," Zamikow said.