Higher education in Iowa is facing several significant challenges — none of which can be solved in isolation.
So, it is disappointing the first meeting of a task force gathered to study tuition rate increases won’t take place. The initial daylong meeting was supposed to take place today in Des Moines. It was intended to bring representatives from the governor’s office, the Legislature, the state and the business community together to discuss how regent institutions — the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University — could better plan for state underfunded and necessary tuition hikes.
But, after receiving an initial nod from state leaders, only two lawmakers — Sen. Herman Quirmbach of Ames and Rep. Cindy Winckler of Davenport — and one state agency — Iowa Workforce Development — confirmed.
Those present would have learned more about how last minute tuition changes stemming from state budget shortfalls can leave parents and students in a bind. Participants would have had better insight into why the Iowa Board of Regents is asking each institution to develop its own five-year tuition policy, a change that could result in tuition rates that further vary from school to school.
From a political perspective, it’s fairly easy to understand why elected officials wouldn’t want to be linked to the significant tuition increases expected to be a part of these five-year plans. But with or without collaboration, the plans are scheduled to be unveiled next month.
All three regent institutions are raising tuition in response to reduced state appropriations. Private and community colleges will be hiking rates as well.
How all of the state’s educational institutions benefit from various pools of state funding, and what they contribute through economic development, needs to be a statewide discussion. Focusing first on tuition at the public universities could have been a doorway into such a deeper, necessary conversation.
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It won’t be politically expedient. If the state cannot balance its budget, elected officials will choose education winners and losers. Ideally, these difficult conversations would take place with more information and better understanding of how regent institutions, pre-K-12, community colleges and the Iowa Tuition Grant Program can and do work together. But none of that can happen until elected officials show up and engage.
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