Iowa budget woes unlikely to mean more tuition increases this year than has already been proposed

'I don't intend to go back several times'

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Even if Iowa lawmakers reconvene this fall to deal with worsening 2017 budget projections and increase cuts for state departments and programs — like the Board of Regents — board President Mike Richards said he’s not inclined to consider midyear tuition hikes.

“Our goal, and my personal goal, is to have one tuition adjustment increase this year,” Richards said. “I don’t intend to go back several times.”

Regents in June agreed to increase tuition rates at its three public universities 3 percent above the 2 percent hike they already approved for the upcoming fall back in December. That total 5 percent rate hike for resident undergraduate students — in addition to steeper increases for some non-resident and graduate students — will make up for more than $30 million in cuts to the state’s base appropriations approved by lawmakers in the last Legislative session.

Lawmakers were forced to cut or transfer $118 million and pull $131 million from reserves after a projected revenue shortfall for the fiscal 2017 budget. The Board of Regents took the biggest hit — with the Legislature taking back $20.75 million from the universities midyear.

The Legislature further cut base appropriations for the regents by nearly $10 million for the current budget year that began July 1. Iowa’s public university presidents have reporting managing the losses through, in large part, new efficiencies and additional tuition revenue.

But last month the Legislative Services Agency projected another potential shortfall of up to $104 million from the already-downgraded 2017 expectations, increasing chances lawmakers will be called back for a special session later this year.

The Board of Regents is in the midst of a discussion around tuition setting — in hopes of avoiding last-minute rate hikes that make planning difficult for students and families.

The three universities have prepared five-year tuition models, and regent Larry McKibben — who is chairing a new regent tuition task force — on Wednesday said the board could start approving tuition rates for more than one year at a time.

President Richards seemed to agree the more stability the better — regardless of what happens at the state level.

“Our goal is to only do it once,” he said. “I just personally think that we — and I’ve told the rest of the board — that I think we should do one (tuition rate) and then have to live with it.”

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