University of Iowa's aggressive tuition plan meets opposition

Harreld pitches plan to hike rates 7 percent a year for five years

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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld made a pitch Monday to hike resident undergraduate tuition 41 percent over the next five years, but students and lawmakers pushed back — calling the plan “a failure” and urging the UI to “go back to the drawing board.”

“It makes my heart beat a little too fast,” Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, told an Iowa Board of Regents tuition task force meeting on the UI campus. “It’s irresponsible to ask that much of hardworking parents supporting their children.”

The UI tuition proposal — the last of five-year pitches from Iowa’s three public universities — would increase resident undergrad rates 7.08 percent each year through 2022 — raising rates from $7,486 this fall to $10,537.

The five-year plan also includes an annual 2.08 percent bump for non-resident undergrads — increasing this year’s $29,130 to $32,288 by 2022.

The proposed UI tuition increases also would extend to graduate students and those in costlier programs like medicine, engineering, dentistry and business.

Last week, the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University presented their plans to the task force. ISU pitched a similar rate plan and UNI proposed a smaller 2.5 annualized bump for resident undergrads, provided the Legislature also appropriated enough money.

The regents would have to approve any tuition increases annually, making the university plans only suggestions. But if regents approve the proposed increases, they would usher in the first significant split in basic resident undergrad rates between the three public universities.

While the UI and ISU would push resident undergrad costs to around $10,500, UNI’s comparable rate would rise more slowly to $8,237 by 2022.

Harreld said Monday he agreed with comments made last week by UNI President Mark Nook that the three institutions have different missions and needs.

‘We’ve been slipping’

If the board approves the proposed increases, Harreld said, his university would use the estimated net $12 million in annual additional revenue to pursue its strategic plan. That plan — which is expected to cost between $154.5 million and $164.5 million in all — includes improving faculty pay and hiring more professors and research scientists.

Specifically, the UI hopes to use the additional revenue to hire 100 new faculty in the next five years, along with 25 research scientists.

The consequences of not doing so could be dire, according to Harreld, who cited mounting losses in top faculty and sliding national rankings. Over the past decade, the UI has dropped 18 places in U.S. News & World Report rankings to No. 82 among public and private colleges — near the bottom of what it considers its peers.

Additionally, the UI’s four-year graduation rate at 51 percent is below its peer average.

“We’ve been slipping,” Harreld said. “It’s time to put a stop to that and actually deliver. If you graduate from here, it needs to be world-class without any questions. Not eroding in U.S. News & World Report and other rankings. We owe that to the citizens of Iowa.”

The board created its tuition task force and charged the universities with creating five-year plans after the state clawed back more than $20 million in base funding for the regent universities in the last budget year. The Legislature further cut its support by nearly $10 million in the current budget year.

Harreld said the proposed rates are based on seeing similar state appropriations over the next five years. But if the appropriations fall more, his institution would take another look.

Depending on any changes at the state level, Harreld acknowledged the university could even request a midyear tuition hike.

Regents President Mike Richards said last week he wants to stick with the tuition rates board members already have approved this year.

After hearing students and lawmakers criticize the UI proposal and urge the board and its universities to push harder for more legislative support, Richards said he and his colleagues will look at the whole picture — including the criticism — in deciding on rates.

‘7 percent is too high’

With years of frozen tuition, the UI sits at the bottom of its peer group in residential undergrad tuition and fees, and near the bottom in non-resident undergraduate tuition and fees.

But those who spoke suggested that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Harreld made a rational argument for more resources. “But I have to say I strongly oppose the rate of increase,” Bolkcom said. “I recognize tuition is going up. I think 7 percent is too high.”

The spike, he said, would increase student debt and decrease accessibility to higher ed.

“This proposal throws in the towel on the people of Iowa who have helped build these intuitions, and I think it throws in the towel on the governor and Legislature’s responsibility to support our public universities,” Bolkcom said.

Of the seven lawmakers who attended the meeting Monday, none were Republicans although the GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

UI Student Government President Jacob Simpson applauded the “narrative of excellence” Harreld has ushered in since arriving two years ago. But, he said, “I believe this proposal is not one of excellence.”

He, like some others, encouraged more fundraising, more penny-pinching and more advocacy for state funding.

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