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Student leaders from Iowa’s public universities didn’t expressly ask the Board of Regents not to raise tuition in the fall, but they did call for help from lawmakers Monday during the board’s first reading of a proposed 4.25 percent tuition hike for the upcoming year.
“What is it going to take for legislators to invest back into the public universities of Iowa?” Leila Masinovac, president of the University of Northern Iowa Student Government, asked during the board’s first reading of proposed 2022-23 tuition and fees.
“It is not just our education we are asking you to assist in funding,” she said during the virtual meeting. ”We are asking you to invest into the leaders of the communities that will take care of you when the time comes.”
The proposal, scheduled for final approval July 27, would raise base tuition rates for in-state students at all three of Iowa’s public universities by 4.25 percent — at both the graduate and undergraduate level.
The rate schedule also raises tuition for out-of-state undergrad and graduate students at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa by 4.25 percent.
The University of Iowa’s rate-hike proposal for out-of-state students syncs the dollar increase with in-state students, instead of the percentage. That means all UI undergrads, regardless of residency, will see a $355 base tuition increase — amounting to a 1.2 percent bump for out-of-state students.
All UI graduate students will see tuition increase by $443 — or 1.5 percent for non-residents.
In justifying the proposed tuition hike, the regents cited the state’s lower-than-requested appropriations for the upcoming budget year, which starts July 1.
The board asked Iowa lawmakers for a $22.1 million increase, which would have brought the regents’ total state appropriations to $638.6 million.
Instead, lawmakers approved a $6.2 million increase — including $5.5 million for general education funds. That was far short of the regents’ $15 million ask but more than last year, when the state granted the board no additional appropriations after cutting support by $8 million during the pandemic.
Where Iowa state appropriations in 1981 accounted for more than 77 percent of university general education funding, and tuition made up 21 percent of the pot, state funding today accounts for 34 percent while tuition makes up nearly 60 percent, according to regent documents.
Less than 2009, 1999
Student leaders on Monday referenced state funding declines when decrying the pressure regents face to raise tuition to maintain academic and research quality.
“The amount of money that you can expect for next year is roughly $80 million less than was appropriated in 2009,” Riley Post, vice president for the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government, said. “It's actually less than the amount of money that was appropriated in 1999, which is before many of the people on this call were even born.”
Factoring in inflation, he calculated today’s state appropriations represent a nearly 45 percent drop “in the amount of buying power.” At the same time, he said, tuition has increased 41 percent.
“So we're really taking the responsibility for funding these institutions away from the state and moving them on to the backs of students,” he said.
All the students who spoke Monday turned their appeals to the Legislature, including Rachel Sorensen, vice president of the Iowa State Graduate and Professional Student Senate.
In arguing against automatic annual tuition hikes, she reported graduate students are struggling to make ends meet.
“Graduate students and professional students, we don't make much to live on,” said Sorensen, a graduate assistant in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology. “By increasing tuition or increasing fees, we're struggling to get by. Myself, I'm homeless this summer.”
Plus, she said, “the amount that I’ve been paid is not enough to actually be able to pay tuition.”
More costly programs
In addition to base tuition hikes, the universities want steeper increases for some costlier programs — like a 5.7 percent tuition and fees increase for UI undergraduate in-state nursing students and a 13 percent tuition and fees hike for ISU undergraduate resident engineering sophomores.
All three campuses are upping some mandatory fees — which every student must pay for things like campuswide technology and health costs, recreation expenses and other student services.
UI officials, for example, want to prorate student health and mental health fees to all students — including those enrolled part-time — like it does for other mandatory fees. The UI also aims to increase the mental health fee by $1 for “higher personnel costs and enhanced suicide prevention programs for students, faculty and staff.”
Iowa State is suggesting a $145 increase in mandatory fees next year, while the UI is proposing a $56 jump and UNI is asking students to pay $27 more in fees.
Fees need review
Patrick Johnson, president of UI Student Government, referenced student debt and other economic burdens in suggesting — among other things — regular reviews of such fees.
“Increased fees, such as the building and deferred maintenance fees, must be subject to both institutional and student review to ensure that these funds are directed toward items utilized and appreciated by the student body,” Johnson said.
“These two fees, while they're small and scale, they're a prime example of our duties as leaders to ensure we are only asking our students to monetarily contribute to services to better their college tenure.”
Regents did not ask any questions of the students who addressed them during the first reading of their tuition proposal Monday. The board did formally approve allocation of the state appropriations increase, giving each campus a 1.1 percent increase in the next budget year.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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