Iowa State University pitches 7 percent tuition increases through 2022

State funding cuts have 'stretched employees and resources to the breaking point'

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Iowa’s budget crunch continues, and Iowa State University acknowledged that Wednesday with a five-year tuition proposal pitching 7 percent increases and more differentiation among costlier programs through 2022.

Interim ISU President Ben Allen — the second of Iowa’s three public university presidents to present tuition models this month to a new Board of Regents tuition task force — offered a tuition map based on four assumptions.

First, the annualized 7 percent increases rely on no change in state appropriations — unlike in 2017 and the current budget year, when lawmakers clawed back previously allocated funds and further cut base funding. Second, Iowa State’s enrollment should remain flat — unlike in recent years when interest in the Ames campus skyrocketed, resulting in repeated student body records.

Third, Iowa State’s assuming a higher education inflation rate of 2.41 percent — the average for the last five years — and that on-campus efficiencies will continue to the tune of 2.25 percent fund reallocation every year.

If all that plays out, Allen said, Iowa State will keep resident undergraduate rate hikes at 7 percent a year – moving the costs in actual dollars from $7,456 this fall to $10,457 in 2022. For non-resident undergraduate students, according to the proposal, tuition will increase 4 percent under Allen’s five-year proposal, increasing the rate from $21,292 this year to $25,905 in 2022.

He noted further rate adjustments for students in costlier programs like engineering and business — some of which already have differential tuition rates and some of which don’t.

“In engineering, for example, to get up to where University of Iowa is, I think it’s about $300 more,” Allen said. “In business, to get up where the University of Iowa is, the differential would have to go up about $800. But in some of the other areas that do not have differentials now, but they will be having, some of those over a couple years go up over $1,000 — quite sizable.”

With University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook on Monday pitching a five-year tuition plan suggesting a preferred annualized increase of 2.5 percent, Allen’s presentation Wednesday bears out an atypical split in resident undergraduate rates among the three public universities.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, scheduled to deliver his five-year tuition proposal Monday, has been outspoken in his desire to raise rates to the median of UI peers — amounting to thousands more for some.

The Board of Regents still must approve tuition rates annually — making these five-year tuition proposals just that — proposals. But regent leadership of late has indicated willingness to give the campuses more control over determining the right tuition fit for their institution — even though the three campuses for years have kept resident undergrad rates closely aligned.

“All of us are prepared to be change agents,” said regent Larry McKibben, who is chairing the tuition task force.

‘I don’t want you to give up’

The Board of Regents charged the universities to come up with five-year tuition models after two years of last-minute rate hikes created consternation among students and families trying to plan. Those last-minute increases came after state appropriations fell short of funding requests and after lawmakers — in the last Legislative session — actually took back money already committed to the Board of Regent universities.

The Legislature in February pulled back a total $20.75 million across the university campuses, lowering their base state funding. For the current budget year that started July 1, the state further reduced its base support by nearly $10 million — meaning Iowa’s public universities are getting more than $30 million less this year than they did at the start of the last budget year.

Allen, in his presentation Wednesday, noted enrollment at Iowa State has surged 37 percent since 2009 — while it’s receiving $3,700 less in state support per resident student.

“Over the past decade, we have been forced to stretch our faculty, staff, and facilities, and we have reached a breaking point,” he said.

Lawmakers invited last month to participate in a stakeholder discussion with the tuition task force failed to commit, resulting in that meeting’s cancellation. But several legislators, or their surrogates, spoke during Wednesday’s tuition discussion at Iowa State in support of higher education and their insistence that funding increase.

“I don’t want you to give up on the legislative and state support,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said. “I believe there is a way for us to do this. I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that young Iowans have access to an affordable education, and that is my goal.”

Wessel-Kroeschell noted “we are not in an economic recession.”

“We need to find where we are misspending dollars and revert those to areas that are our responsibility,” she said. “And one of those is higher education.”

But a recent report from Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency shows the state’s 2017 budget — which fell short of projections, requiring $118 million in cuts and transfers and $131 million in IOUs from reserves — could experience an additional $104 million shortfall. That news brings with it the possibility of a special legislative session this fall to address the budget woes.

Should more cuts hit Iowa’s public universities — both this year and in the future — ISU President Allen said his campus would consider tuition hikes above those proposed Wednesday.

“But I think it’s a tougher decision to increase this,” he said. “It’s an easier decision to go down if the state gives us more money. Going up, I think we’d have to reconvene, rethink, but it would be more reluctance to increase it.”

‘We are going to lose our best people’

Former ISU junior Caleb Vanfossen, 23, said he’s already feeling the pain of rising tuition combined with shifts in available aid. He wasn’t able to register for classes in what would have been his senior year after losing tuition assistance and in light of higher costs.

“I can’t afford to go back to school,” he told the tuition task force Wednesday.

He’s on food stamps. He has to pay rent.

“I can’t live and go to college at the same time,” Vanfossen said.

In making his case for higher costs, Allen pointed to key strategic priorities. First, he said, to retain faculty and staff, the university must provide “reasonable” annual salary increases, something the university decided not to mandate this year. Secondly, the university must ramp up its faculty and staff recruitment and hire a net 330 faculty by 2022 to maintain target student-faculty ratios.

Over the next five years, to accommodate additional faculty needs, the university must add 900,000 square feet of new building capacity. And, Allen said, Iowa State has to up its need-based financial aid to keep up with demographic changes in Iowa’s high school populations and to sustain accessibility and diversity.

Some students who spoke to the task force Wednesday acknowledged the need for more resources to maintain Iowa State’s elite status, and they expressed gratitude for the improved communication — asserting it helps with planning.

Iowa State graduate student Maria B. Mantilla, an international student who received a scholarship from Ecuador to study plant breeding, said she juggled several offers before choosing Iowa State for its esteemed faculty.

Allen boasted the university’s top national ranking in agriculture and Biosystems engineering, along with high ratings in supply chain management, architecture, forestry, and veterinary medicine.

“If we don’t make new investments, we will lose this momentum and we could wipe out the progress,” Allen said. “We are now seeing leading indicators that our high quality may be at risk.”

The College of Business, for example, has lost two “strong young faculty” to Big Ten campuses due to salary issues, Allen said. The College of Engineering has lost 26 midcareer faculty in three years. Iowa State’s student counseling has lost three counselors to the Social Security Administration due to pay gaps between $30,000 and $40,000.

On the facilities side, 10 engineering labs are running 12 hours a day, and the College of Business is holding classes until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday — stressing capacity.

“Our faculty and staff are understandably frustrated — there are many who could have left but haven’t. They are very loyal,” Allen said. “I think we’re reaching a breaking point. We must do something about this, or we are going to lose our best people.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

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