Higher education

Tuition, athletics revenue on the table to aid Iowa universities weather funding cuts

'We want to make sure that we look beyond just one year'

Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

With needs growing across Iowa’s public university campuses, fall tuition likely will be growing too, and the Board of Regents on Thursday said it will let students and families know sooner than later how much more they’ll be paying for the 2016-2017 school year.

Presidents for University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa are in the process of studying tuition rates at peer institutions, consulting one another about differential tuition options, and scouring the nation for creative ideas to make up for weaker-than-expected state support. They’re also considering other innovative ways of ensuring the success of their academic and research enterprises — including pulling revenue from the athletic programs and moving it to the general fund.

“Given the dramatic increases in all the media rights, licensing, fan tickets, and all the rest, are we at a stage where we might take that to the next level and actually have athletics support, on an ongoing basis, a portion of the academic side of the institution?” UI President Bruce Harreld said Thursday during a Board of Regents meeting in Council Bluffs.

He said the institution has been studying that for a while, and change might happen slowly. But, Harreld said, “I would love to be one of the major institutions in the country to say that whole dynamic is shifting, where the athletics are starting to support the academics.”

ISU President Steven Leath said he too would “love that to happen.”

“But we are all facing a number of very large, comprehensive serious lawsuits related to athletics,” Leath said. “So before we would change our budget structure and put money back in academics, we want to at least get past some of these immediate lawsuits.”

As for tuition changes, Leath said, “We are trying to figure out what’s the best way to gather increases from residents, non-residents, or with differential tuition.”

“Or maybe it’s some new model, like charging more for students later in their academic programming than in the beginning,” Leath said.

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Leath said his team hopes to have a tuition proposal ready within 30 days, and Harreld and UNI President William Ruud said they’re following similar processes — looking at peer institutes and considering alternate models being tested and tried nationally.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said he expects to have a tuition-increase proposal ready by June.

“You can look for a special meeting to make sure we ensure the timetable of giving students and their parents a heads up early that that increase will happen in the fall,” he said.

The board before this legislative session requested more than $20 million more in state appropriations for its three universities — $8.2 million for ISU, which has seen soaring enrollment of late; $7.7 million for UNI, which has mostly in-state students who pay lower tuition rates; and $4.5 million for UI, which rates low nationally in faculty compensation.

But lawmakers earlier this week passed a $1 billion higher education budget with $6.3 million more for the universities — $2.78 for UNI, $2.2 million for ISU, and $1.3 million for UI.

Rastetter on Thursday reiterated the board’s disappointment with that proposal, which still has to be approved by Gov. Terry Branstad. But he also acknowledged “the kind of year the state economy is having” and that demands outside education are “continuing to consume a significant portion of the state budget.”

“So what we have asked the universities to do is not just look at raising tuition this year, but to look longer term at what makes sense for the universities in the competitive world,” Rastetter said. “Whether it’s resident, non-resident, international, graduate programs, and then also if there are innovative things happening. We want to make sure that we look beyond just one year.”

Still, Rastetter voiced concern about implementing some sort of planned incremental tuition increase annually — something students at ISU and UNI have proposed.

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“One of the challenges with that is that it becomes compounded, and I think clearly it is important for the state to support public education — they are state universities,” he said. “So I think each year this should be a process for us in which we ask the state to be partners with the universities in supporting state appropriations. I think it would be inappropriate for us to say we are going to consistently raise tuition.”

Last summer, after lawmakers fell short of the regents’ funding request, the board voted to increase tuition 3 percent at ISU and UNI this spring and at UI next fall. Even with those increases, UI and ISU boast the lowest rates among peer schools, and UNI is fourth from the bottom of its peer list.

ISU associate professor Robert Wallace stressed to the board on Thursday that the schools also sit near the bottom of faculty compensation, and a growing number of professors are going to start losing patience. Many have been at the university — like himself — for 25, 35, or even 50 years.

“My concern is that with repeated messages in recent years that their service is not valued, or at least undervalued, being communicated by the lack of meaningful salary increases, that loyalty will be tested,” Wallace said. “And our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty will be compromised and progressively diminished over time.”

Faculty from the institutions voiced concern about resources in light of growing student enrollment. Wallace said he and his colleagues were patient through the 2008 recession.

“We have not yet recovered or rebounded from that situation,” he said. “And as salaries at other academic institutions increase around us, we fall further behind.”

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