Education

Despite higher rates, Iowa's regent schools see tuition losses

Enrollment declines contribute to falling short of budget expectations

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Aug. 14, 2017, addresses a regents tuition task force on the university’s five-year tuition plan at Kollros Auditorium in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Aug. 14, 2017, addresses a regents tuition task force on the university’s five-year tuition plan at Kollros Auditorium in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa’s three public universities pulled in millions less in tuition revenue than expected the last budget year, largely due to enrollment drops that continued this fall, according to new Board of Regents reports scheduled to be discussed this week.

The University of Iowa reported the biggest dollar drop of the three. Its $476.2 million was about $6.7 million below expectations, despite campuswide rate increases.

The University of Northern Iowa, which also increased tuition rates last fall but not again this fall, reported a tuition revenue drop from $81.1 million in 2018 to $79.5 million in 2019, which was $2.5 million below the expectation.

Even with a $2 million boost in state appropriations that year, UNI’s total revenue came in $1.6 million below budget, according to regent documents. The documents also show the UI’s total revenue fell $4 million below projections.

Although Iowa State University saw tuition revenue come in below budget by $357,136, it was the only one of Iowa’s public universities to see a year-over-year tuition revenue increase.

ISU raised it rates for the 2019 academic year, starting at 3.8 percent and going higher for costlier programs.

UI officials said their institution’s 2019 tuition revenue drop was due to “the elimination of the Summer Hawk tuition grant program after the 2018 summer session and other enrollment changes,” documents show

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Enrollment decreased for all three schools in fall 2018 and again this fall following a recent peak several years ago.

Total enrollments dipped from 32,166 in 2017 to 31,240 at UI; from 35,993 to 33,391 at ISU; and from 11,907 to 10,497 at UNI. At its highest, UNI’s enrollment topped 14,000 in 2001, according to UNI records. This semester’s drop brings it to its lowest since 1975.

That continued slide paired with this fall’s tuition freeze at UNI — aimed at making it more competitive with regional peers — means its tuition revenue likely will be even lower in next year’s report.

And a dire enrollment outlook projects fewer high school graduates in the pipeline for all of Iowa’s public and private colleges and universities.

To account for revenue drops, UNI spent $4.9 million less than planned on salaries in 2019 and $674,396 less than budgeted on financial aid.

The UI spent $1.2 million less than planned on salaries, $17.5 million less on supplies and $7.7 million less on financial aid, records show.

ISU reported its biggest savings — $10.8 million — in the area of budgeted building repairs, a category in which the UI blew way past its budget, spending $19 million more than planned.

“Building repairs exceeded the budget to address critical/time sensitive repairs and maintenance,” according to a UI portion of the regents’ budget report.

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In breaking down enrollment declines this fall, Iowa’s public universities collectively reported a 2.6 percent decline in Iowa residents, a nearly 2 percent decline in out-of-state students and an over 15 percent decline in international students — following an 11 percent drop last fall.

International students pay high tuition rates, so even a small fluctuation can have outsized consequences for budgets.

“The single largest contributor to this drop in international students is China, with 715 fewer students in fall 2019, a one-year decrease of 22.4 percent,” according to the board report.

All three of the public universities saw declines in their total undergraduate populations.

But while ISU and UNI saw big dips in their freshmen classes — 7.4 percent and 12 percent, respectively — the UI reported at 4 percent larger freshman class.

And the regent universities collectively saw a noteworthy uptick in ethnic minority students — from 10 percent in 2010 to nearly 16 percent — matching growth among minorities in Iowa’s high school graduate population and squaring with a shift in recruitment tactics and strategies.

“The university continues its long-standing commitment to making progress on first-year retention, timely degree completion and the diversity of our student body, through implementation of the 2016-2021 strategic plan, coordinated recruitment efforts, and a variety of student success, academic support, and first-year programs,” UI officials reported, according to regent documents.

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

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