Iowa regents to ask for 2 percent more from state

Two-year budget road map also includes 2 percent tuition increases

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IOWA CITY — The Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday agreed to ask lawmakers for $656.3 million in operating appropriations for the 2018 budget year as part of a two-year plan that includes annual 2-percent increases in both state support and tuition rates.

The board will consider the tuition portion of that plan next month, at which time university officials are expected to pitch 2-percent increases for resident undergraduate students and differing rate bumps for other students — including non-resident and graduate students.

Iowa State University, for one, will look at expanding its differential tuition model, which sets rates based on student status and program.

“What it would look like is probably a model where juniors and seniors would pay more than freshman and sophomores because, generally speaking, they are in smaller classes, more expensive classes, more hands-on classes in their major, and they are far more likely to graduate,” ISU President Steven Leath said. “So you’ll be putting the financial burden on people that are actually taking the expensive classes and are likely to graduate and pay it back.”

The board’s 2018 allocations request — approved Thursday — includes 2 percent more in general appropriations for each of Iowa’s public universities, plus an extra $2.5 million for University of Northern Iowa, which has a larger proportion of resident undergraduate students and has been disproportionally hit by recent tuition freezes.

In dollars, the board ask amounts to $4.6 million more for University of Iowa, $4.4 million more for UNI, and $3.7 million more for Iowa State University — or nearly $12.8 million total.

The board also is seeking a 40.5 percent hike in state support for its office — which would increase its $794,714 total appropriations this year to $1.1 million next year. That request comes after the state in the current budget year cut the board office’s appropriation by more than 27 percent, according to board documents.

“We’re asking for reinstatement of money that was cut last year — and it was a substantial amount of money that was cut,” board President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland said. “It makes it very difficult to provide the support for the universities and the services that the board office does when you don’t have the resources to get it done.”

The board’s 2018 appropriations request, as part of its new two-year budget road map, aims to help students and families plan. Late legislative decisions in the past two years resulted in last-minute tuition increases, and board members — along with Iowa’s university presidents — said they want to provide more predictability.

Although the plan includes two years of state appropriations tuition increases, board members stressed those numbers are fluid and could change — which is why they’re continuing to approve appropriation requests and tuition increases one year at a time.

ISU President Leath on Thursday told the board he’s comfortable asking for 2 percent more from the state to support his institution, which has seen enrollment grow 31 percent since 2009 — from 27,945 to 36,660 this year.

“But, if we think about this 2 percent increase, it’s still far from what we need to just maintain where we’re at,” he said. “And we’ve got to make up that shortfall by, frankly, adjusting tuition.”

The additional revenue will go toward addressing the student-faculty ratio, which Leath said, “We need to lower.” And it will go toward recruiting and retaining top faculty and holding down student debt.

“Even with these tuition increases … you’ll see that Iowa State will still be the most affordable university in resident and non-resident in our peer group,” Leath said. “So, as much as we hate to have the students incur additional charges, we’ve done a better job than everyone else.”

UI President Bruce Harreld also stressed the bargain price of resident undergraduate tuition and said rates should increase — in a predictable fashion — to maintain a strong UI brand. When asked about the impact on student debt, Harreld said UI’s average student debt is a little more than $27,000 — and that is an average of those students who have it.

About half the UI students don’t have debt, Harreld said, meaning the average debt rate for the entire campus is between $13,000 and $14,000. And, he continued, about half of the debt incurred is “really needed to support the student on campus.”

To keep debt down while also increasing resources through, in part, higher tuition, Harreld said the university must maintain its efforts to improve efficiency and provide families with predictability — the ability to plan.

“We’ll do our fair share, we think the state needs to do its fair share, and hopefully also the students also will then contribute their fair share in a predictable way,” he said.

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