Education

Tuition debate will wait due to 'considerable uncertainty'

Board of Regents punts first tuition reading

University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld (left) and provost Sue Curry (second from right) speak with Regents Nancy Boettger (second from left) and Sherry Bates (right) after Harreld presented the university’s five-year tuition plan to the Regents tuition task force at Kollros Auditorium in the Biology Building East in Iowa City, Iowa, on Monday, August 14, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld (left) and provost Sue Curry (second from right) speak with Regents Nancy Boettger (second from left) and Sherry Bates (right) after Harreld presented the university’s five-year tuition plan to the Regents tuition task force at Kollros Auditorium in the Biology Building East in Iowa City, Iowa, on Monday, August 14, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Board of Regents will not discuss tuition rates for the next school year later this month — as originally planned — due to “considerable uncertainty” around state support, including looming cuts in the current budget year.

“The board does not yet have enough information to be able to set tuition rates at the February meeting,” according to a statement from board spokesman Josh Lehman.

Instead, the board will hold its first 2018-2019 tuition discussion during its April meeting. Because tuition requires two public readings before it’s officially set, the board’s final approval will come in June. That means students planning to attend University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa won’t know for certain the cost of their education until just two months before they’re scheduled to arrive on campus in August.

Board President Mike Richards, though, has said he doesn’t want to set tuition and then change it in response to state takebacks — as has happened the last two years. And lawmakers appear likely to cut appropriations already committed to the regent universities for 2018.

Legislators have not yet discussed 2019 appropriations in depth, although Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed increasing total support for the regent universities by $7.3 million — an increase that would be minimized by any base funding cuts in the current year.

And those cuts remain under discussion as various bills have been aired. Reynolds started the discussion by proposing $5.1 million in regent cuts, followed by a much steeper Senate proposal to slash regents funding by more than $19 million.

A House bill offered cuts at $8.1 million, and most recently a revised senate proposal would take back $14.6 million from the Board of Regents this year. Senate Republicans last week approved that measure that would cut the 2018 budget by a total $34 million — not the $52 million they earlier proposed in hopes of mitigating a projected budget shortfall.

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Higher education takes the brunt of the hit under the revised Senate proposal — with $1.8 million coming from community colleges. Other cuts include $6.24 million for the Department of Human Services, and $3.4 million for corrections and prisons.

Original language in that proposal stated the Board of Regents “shall not use the reduction as the basis for increasing the tuition rate and mandatory fees for the academic year 2018-2019.” That stipulation has been removed.

Over the summer, the board convened a “tuition task force” that required its three university presidents to pitch tuition proposals for the next five years. UI and ISU leaders said without increases in state support they needed annual 7-percent hikes in resident undergraduate rates to accomplish their strategic plans.

UNI proposed annualized 5-percent increases with no new state support. That rate would rise with state funding cuts, according to UNI’s model. Iowa State and UI presidents didn’t include a scenario for decreased state support.

And regents since have said the 7-percent increases are unlikely, as they are unpalatable and unmanageable for students and families.

The universities, in response to past and ongoing state funding cuts, have scrambled to find new efficiencies and cut scholarship programs. Iowa State did not offer mandated pay raises for faculty and professional and scientific employees this year.

But university presidents have said improving faculty pay is crucial in recruiting top academics and retaining those they have. UI President Bruce Harreld has been especially vocal on the topic, making that among his priorities since arriving in 2015.

A new Board of Regents report made public Tuesday shows faculty salaries are increasing across the three public universities – jumping at UI, for example, from an average $103,492 in 2014 to $111,952 in the current year.

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Pay for professional and scientific employees – like those in the administration – similarly has been on the rise. Compensation for merit workers – including blue collar, clerical, security, and technical employees – has eked up at a more modest pace at Iowa and UNI and decreased from an average of $44,207 in 2014 to $43,117 in 2018 at Iowa State.

Some higher education advocates have expressed concern about how dwindling resources could affect university faculty going forward, and a separate report released Tuesday shows changes in the type of faculty Iowa’s public universities are hiring.

The University of Iowa’s tenured and tenure-track faculty totals, for example, have dropped from 1,485 in 2007 to 1,370 this year. Meanwhile, its non-tenure track tally – which used to account for 31 percent of the faculty total – has swelled from 655 in 2007 to 1,257 this year, representing 48 percent of the total and nearly matching the tenured and tenure-track count.

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

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