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One week after the Board of Regents increased tuition again and agreed to take a closer look at letting its universities charge steeper rates in the coming years, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld is vowing to uphold his school's commitment to accessible education.
In a statement addressing the public universities' role 'in the democratization of higher education,” Harreld on Thursday reiterated access and equality as a 'value and responsibility” of his institution. His comments come as tuition goes up, legislative support goes down, financial aid options are threatened and student need increases - especially among those prospects from Iowa.
'Public institutions like the UI are integral to continuing the democratization of education,” Harreld said in the statement. 'And we must not - and we do not - take that role lightly.”
Still, Harreld recently has been the most vocal among Iowa's public universities in pushing for tuition increases, asking regents for the freedom to institute a five-year plan that would bring his school's rates in line with the average of its peers.
That could translate to an increase of thousands of dollars for some, as UI's resident undergraduate tuition and fee total of $8,676 for the academic year that just ended was at the bottom of its 11-member peer group, which charged an average $11,882, according to data presented to the Board of Regents last week. Iowa State University, at $8,219, also charged the least among its peer group, which reported an average $12,529 in resident undergraduate tuition and fees.
University of Northern Iowa was near the bottom and below the average, and both UNI and ISU leaders - like Harreld - have advocated for more tuition revenue if state appropriations continue dropping.
The Board of Regents this summer is launching a new tuition task force bringing administrators, campus constituents and lawmakers together to map out a more clear tuition plan for the future. Each university has been tasked with crafting a five-year tuition model and administrators have hinted those could differ by campus.
University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook, for example, recently said he'd be willing to keep UNI rates lower than at UI and ISU - even though resident undergraduate rates across the three institutions have been closely aligned for decades. Mike Richards, who recently took over as Board of Regents president, said last week he trusts the campus leadership to make the right call for their respective universities.
'We do want to allow the universities to maybe make some adjustments based on their own needs,” he said. 'Have the presidents of the universities run the universities, and we'll support what they do.”
Those increases paired with threats to state and federal financial aid and increases in Iowa's first-generation, minority and low-income high school populations have some questioning the universities' commitment to access - especially access to those in the Iowa education pipeline.
Harreld seemed to acknowledge those concerns Thursday and promised to address them.
'In times of political and social upheaval, it is even more important that we provide young people with the tools necessary to be successful and to keep the nation going strong,” Harreld said in his statement.
He referenced the country's higher education history and how it morphed from something reserved for the wealthy to something available to the everyday citizen.
'Now, attaining a four-year degree is a way for many to achieve successes that weren't available to their parents or grandparents - and public institutions like the University of Iowa play an extremely important role in the process,” he said.
In Harreld's report to the Board of Regents last week, he promoted the value of a UI degree by citing a return on investment of $371,000 over 20 years. But in his comments Thursday, Harreld argued education is about more than increased earnings.
'Education is just as much about equality and access: it allows people to participate more fully in their society,” he said. 'With that in mind, making higher education available to as many as possible is a moral and necessary undertaking.”
Harreld in his comments did not release details about how the university would sustain its commitment to access in the face of rising tuition rates. The universities have in recent years increased the amount of financial aid they provide - although Harreld in the spring cut several non-need and non-merit-based scholarship offerings.
Discussion around access likely will be part of the tuition discussion this summer. Regent spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette on Thursday his office is close to finalizing dates and specific presenters for those discussions.
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