Higher education

Iowa regents shave tuition increase by $50

Tuition will now go up by $250 per year, instead of $300

University of Iowa students walk past the Henry B. Tippie College of Business on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on campus in Iowa City on Thursday, December 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
University of Iowa students walk past the Henry B. Tippie College of Business on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on campus in Iowa City on Thursday, December 18, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The Board of Regents on Monday unanimously agreed to shave $50 off a tuition-hike proposal for this fall, decreasing the annual increase for resident undergraduate students from $300 to $250.

The rest of the original tuition proposal — which includes increases as high as $800 for some students — remained untouched during Monday’s final reading and approval. But regents said they wanted to address concerns around rising resident undergraduate tuition rates, which had been frozen for an unprecedented three straight years.

“I’m very pleased with our leadership team at the regents here in moving this in this direction, finding this compromise,” said regent Larry McKibben, who proposed the amendment after hearing “a lot of concern out there about the increase, but also concern about how we maintain the high quality of education at our three universities.”

During the proposal’s first reading last month, UI students asked regents to consider an across-the-board $200 tuition increase — regardless of school, student level, and program type — instead of the broad range of increases that included a $300 bump for resident undergraduates. Board President Bruce Rastetter at the time said he would support the original proposal, and UI President Bruce Harreld said decreasing the rate bump would hamper his ability to lead the institution to improved excellence.

But Rastetter on Monday said he’s had time to consider more feedback and consult with each university president, and he feels comfortable supporting a $250 increase rather than the $300 hike.

“When going out and asking the three presidents if they can support and manage their budgets with $50 less in in-state tuition … they assured me that they could,” he said.

The original proposal had expected to bring in about $21.1 million, and Rastetter said decreasing it by $50 per resident undergraduate student would cut anticipated revenue by nearly $500,000 at University of Northern Iowa, nearly $700,000 at UI, and just under $1 million at Iowa State University.

Each university had crafted 2016-2017 budgets tied to anticipated tuition-increase revenue, but Rastetter said the presidents will make due with less.

“One of the questions I asked of the three presidents … is can you still accomplish your mission and your goal of what you presented to the board in June with the $50 less?” Rastetter said. “They went to their people and came back and said they believed they could manage through that.”

The board has tied its need for more tuition revenue to shortcomings in state allocations. Instead of $20.3 million more in general university funds for the budget year that started July 1, per the board’s request, lawmakers approved a $6.3 million increase.

During the previously Legislative session, lawmakers similarly approved smaller-than-requested allocations, prompting the board seven months ago to raise tuition 3 percent for resident undergraduates — or $200 a year. That increase went into effect for ISU and UNI students in the spring and will go into effect this fall at UI, meaning resident undergraduate students on all three campuses — with Monday’s approved increase — will pay $450 more this fall than they did last.

UNI junior Rachael Johnson, who serves as the board’s student regent, said she understands the need to increase tuition with declining state support, but she advocated for a process to make costs more predictable.

“I do believe that is our responsibility to keep costs predictable and sustainable for all Iowans,” she said. “Therefore, I am asking the board and our institutions to take a deep analytical look into the way we set tuition.”

Rastetter said the board is doing just that and he expects in September, “at the very least,” to discuss a plan that would bring funding and tuition proposals to the Legislature every two years. University budgets would be reflective of the two-year outlook, according to Rastetter.

“That’s what we’ve asked the universities to think about, in terms of their needs, so we can be more forward-looking for parents and their students on what tuition may look like over the course of two and three years out, rather than just year-by-year,” he said.

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Legislative cooperation would be required for such an approach to work, and Rastetter said regents already have instigated some of those discussions.

“Just because we think it’s a bright idea doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen,” he said. “So we will try and lobby and request that the legislature consider it and the governor consider it going forward.”

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