Tuition task force to release its findings: Board of Regents delay state funding request pending word on rates

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The Board of Regents won’t approve its annual state appropriations request during its regular September meeting, bucking standard practice, so it first can hear from a tuition task force convened over the summer to consider long-term tuition mapping in light of weakening state support.

After regent Larry McKibben during the board’s meeting next week provides a report from this summer’s three task force meetings, the full board will hold a special meeting later in September to consider its state funding ask for the 2019 budget year.

The board has a lot to consider in making its request – as state budget shortfalls for 2017 appear to be worse than expected and as its public university presidents are calling for steep hikes, despite pushback form students and lawmakers alike.

The board last September backed a two-year appropriations and tuition plan that vowed to limit tuition increases to 2 percent each year if lawmakers came through with 2-percent annual funding bumps. That plan dissolved quickly when the state not only rebuffed the request for more money but took back more than $20 million from Iowa’s public universities in the 2017 budget year and further cut base funding by nearly $10 million for the 2018 budget year.

Those reductions prompted the board to approve last-minute tuition increases, costing resident undergraduates at University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa 5 percent more this fall than last.

Legislative cuts, precipitated by budget shortfalls at the state level, prompted regents over the summer to convene the tuition task force – which heard UI President Bruce Harreld and Interim ISU President Ben Allen call for 7 percent tuition hikes every year through 2022.

Those increases are based on an assumption of no state funding increases in the coming years.

UNI President Mark Nook offered a less severe annualized increase of 2.5 percent, if the state ups its funding 1.75 percent a year. Without that increase, however, UNI is proposing an annualized increase of nearly 5 percent through 2022.

The presidents’ plans, if approved by the board, could create separation among the schools in the cost for resident undergraduates – something administrators long have resisted. But the university presidents, during this summer’s task force meetings, argued the schools have different expenses and different missions and should be treated as such.

Nook suggested that could mean more state support for UNI students, 88 percent of whom come from within Iowa and thus pay a lower rate under the assumption their education is supported by taxpayer dollars.

Harreld has said he doesn’t disagree with that notion – so long as his institution retains more control over its tuition rates.

Students and lawmakers – both those who attended the tuition task force meetings and those who didn’t but who have spoken out since – have pushed back against the proposed hikes, specifically those out of UI and ISU, calling them “irresponsible” and “a failure.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said, “There is no way that Iowa families could afford a 7 percent increase over five years.”

Board of Regents President Mike Richards has told The Gazette he and his colleagues will consider both university arguments and public feedback in deciding how to proceed with funding requests and tuition plans.

Capital project requests

Although the board is waiting to decide how much state support to request for its campus’ general education budgets, regents next week will consider five-year capital plans supporting numerous facility upgrades and improvements – including capital project requests for the 2019 budget year.

The 2019-2023 state-funded capital plan the board will consider approving next week totals $514.2 million – including a 2019 capital request for state funds of $61.8 million, according to board documents made public Tuesday. That total includes both state appropriations and academic building revenue bonds.

Additionally, the board will consider approving an “other-funds” five-year capital plan totaling $860.7 million. That total includes sources other than appropriations, like operating budget building repair funds, income from treasurer’s temporary investments, gifts and grants, and departmental renewal and replacement funds.

The proposed $514.2 million for capital projects via state appropriations or bond authorization includes $414.2 million in major renovations projects and $100 million in fire safety, environmental safety, deferred maintenance, campus security, regulatory compliance, Iowa Public Radio, and energy conservation upgrades across the campuses.

The $514.2 million represents an increase over the last three five-year state-funded capital plans, but it’s below the nearly $700 million plan approved for the 2015-2019 term. The single-year $61.8 million request for 2019 prioritizes fire and environmental safety, campus security, deferred maintenance, and other regulatory compliance projects across the regent campuses.

But $15.6 million of the total would go toward modernization of the UI Main Library; $20 million would go toward a veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Iowa State; and $2.1 million would go toward the Industrial Technology Center at UNI.

In justifying the projects, UI administrators specifically argued for library modernization by noting – except for a new library learning commons debuted in fall 2013 – the main library remains “essentially as it was built in 1951.”

“During the last 30 years, technological capabilities, financial realities, and the emergence of an “electronic information society” have brought about a dramatic change in the way the libraries fulfill their missions,” according to board documents.

The UI Main Library, which saw more than 1 million visitors in the past year, encompasses 427,000 gross square feet and has deferred maintenance needs topping $29.6 million – the most of any UI building.

In the first phase of the long-range modernization plan, UI invested $21.5 million in non-state appropriated funds for a new off-site warehouse capable of housing 5 million of the library’s volumes. In its second phase, the project will expand and complement the Library Learning Commons; support the library as the new home for the “academic neighborhood;” and enable collaboration between the library and the new Museum of Art, which will be located just south of the library.

The $15.6 million in the 2019 budget year will begin the $52 million project, which would require another $36.4 million over the next two budget years – 2020 and 2021, according to board documents.

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