116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Education / Higher Ed
Legislature rejects funding bump for Iowa universities
No increase likely means higher tuition
Not only have Iowa lawmakers rejected a Board of Regents request to restore the $8 million they cut last summer in response to COVID-19, the Republican-led Senate this week approved a $1 billion education budget that excludes any funding increase at all for Iowa’s public universities.
The Board of Regents — which governs the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa — had asked lawmakers to restore the slashed $8 million and increase general education appropriations by an additional $18 million for the upcoming budget year.
In her January budget proposal, Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended a $15 million total increase — shy of the $26 million general education increase the board sought but bolstered by a recommended $30 million increase in the 2023 fiscal year, according to Reynolds’ proposed budget.
But the Senate-approved budget bill now headed to Reynolds’ desk for a signature keeps regent funding flat for the new budget year — meaning tuition rates likely will increase above a base 3 percent hike at the University of Iowa and Iowa State, and possibly University of Northern Iowa.
The Board of Regents in 2018 adopted a five-year tuition model for its UI and ISU campuses that promised 3 percent resident undergraduate tuition increases if lawmakers fulfilled the board’s funding requests and higher rate hikes if the Legislature didn’t.
The model excluded UNI — as it’s a smaller school with different competitors. And it allowed for bigger tuition increases for non-resident and graduate students and those in costlier programs.
The goal of the tuition model was to give students and families line of sight to future tuition costs, so they could financially plan their college experience. But the pandemic prompted board leadership to pause the planned rate hikes, keeping undergraduate residential tuition frozen for the 2020-21 year at $8,073 at UI, $8,042 at ISU and $7,665 at UNI.
When announcing that freeze in the fall, Board President Mike Richards promised the model would be resumed.
“Because of COVID-19, pausing the five-year tuition model for one academic year was the right thing to do,” Richards said in November. “But in balancing the financial needs of our future institutions, we are planning to resume the five-year tuition plan beginning with the fall 2021 semester.”
Iowa’s public universities are recovering from pandemic-compelled expenses and losses, including enrollment declines and mid-semester student departures.
Senate Democrats this week lamented the lack of increase for the public universities.
The public universities are “three of the biggest economic engines in this state,” Sen. Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, said during debate. “It we’re going to jump-start the Iowa economy, part of the answer is to attract and retain talent to this state. … The Legislature needs to step up.”
Democrats proposed for the regents schools a 3.1 percent funding increase, which Democrats said matches the budgeted increase for community colleges and the same amount proposed by Gov. Reynolds.
But that proposed amendment was voted down by Senate Republicans.
HF 868 passed on a party-line 28-17 vote.
Without any state funding increases, Board of Regents total funding will stay at $613.6 million. The board had wanted it increased to $642.9 million total.
“We appreciate the appropriations we receive for Iowa’s public universities from the state. However, we are disappointed that we did not receive new funding to even compensate for inflation,” Regents spokesman Josh Lehman wrote in an email to The Gazette Wednesday afternoon.
“The Regent Universities are economic engines that help drive the state’s economy, and need appropriate resources to continue providing outstanding education. The Board of Regents has studied the funding of our institutions and has developed a five-year tuition model that works in concert with the level of state appropriations.”
He added that the board didn’t "anticipate having a first reading of proposed 2021-22 tuition rates at the June 1-3 Board meeting. We will likely call a special meeting later in June to do this, with a final vote on rates in July.“
Republican lawmakers this session slammed Iowa’s public universities for free speech violations — including the UI College of Dentistry’s handling of a diversity training directive from the White House and an ISU professor’s syllabus restricting classroom opinions frequently held by conservatives.
In response to those incidents, lawmakers proposed a smattering of bills aimed at free speech training and policy, eliminating faculty tenure, and requiring employees report their political affiliation, among other items.
Comments: (319) 339-3158; firstname.lastname@example.org