The Board of Regents Office has finalized a proposal it hinted at last month to further increase tuition for the upcoming fall and — in addition to a total 5 percent increase for all resident undergraduates — University of Iowa undergrads from outside the state will see a total 6.4 percent increase.
That UI non-resident undergraduate increase amounts to $1,764 more than the current tuition. For comparison, the 5 percent increase for resident undergraduate students at UI, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa — which is 3 percent more than the 2 percent originally planned for fall — amounts to $358 more at all three schools.
The universities had planned to cap resident undergraduate rate increases at 2 percent so long as lawmakers came through on a board request for 2 percent more in state appropriations. Before the Legislature failed to do that, the board had approved a 2.5 percent increase for UI non-resident undergraduates — or $686 more next fall.
The newest tuition increase proposal comes as Iowa’s public university presidents are pushing for more flexibility in setting their respective tuition rates. University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has argued for more control at a time when public support for higher education is deteriorating nationwide and universities are scrambling to find alternate budget models.
This week’s proposal suggests Iowa’s public universities could be getting more of that desired control — potentially differentiating them further in cost and in brand.
For example, while UI’s tuition for undergraduate nonresidents is on track to spike more than $1,000 over the already-approved $686 increase for the fall, ISU and UNI are proposing additional rate increases for that student sector equal to $216 more than the current rates.
If the board approves the tuition proposal — which requires two readings, one next week and one in early June — non-resident undergraduates at UI will pay a total $29,130 per year, compared to $21,292 at Iowa State, and $17,998 at UNI.
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Resident undergraduate rates, meanwhile, remain fairly aligned across the campuses under the new proposal — costing UI students $7,486 per year and ISU and UNI students $7,456. Administrators and analysts, however, have said disparity in that basic rate could be coming.
Former Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, for example, suggested during his last meeting as a regent in April that past pushes for tuition model consistency across the three campuses “might not be right.”
He noted differential tuition that already exists by program, largely at UI and ISU, for students pursuing more expensive endeavors — like engineering, medicine, business and animal science. Those students, according to Friday’s tuition proposal, also are facing additional rate increases this fall — in many cases to a much steeper degree.
A UI non-resident dentistry student, for example, could pay $2,578 more than the already-approved $1,638 bump for fall 2017, resulting in a total increase of $4,216 from last fall. Non-resident medical students at UI could pay $2,072 more than the approved $1,696 increase. And undergraduate UI business students taking upper division courses could pay an additional $1,196 on top of the approved $760 increase.
“Differential tuition is a way to have students who are in more expensive programs pay for those programs,” Rastetter said last month. “Just as President Harreld has talked about — what Iowa’s, in particular, tuition needs are — UNI is different and Iowa State is different.”
Although Iowa State and UNI have some differentiated tuition rates for their costlier programs, this week’s tuition increase proposal keeps all their additional bumps to $216 — regardless of residency, enrollment or area of study.
Earlier this year, Rastetter vowed not to further increase tuition for fall 2017 so long as the state came through on what he called a “modest” 2 percent appropriations increase. He stuck to that commitment even as lawmakers took back a total $20.8 million of base state support in the current budget year across the three universities.
But when the General Assembly not only failed to come through with a 2 percent funding increase but further reduced appropriations for the next budget year by $9.58 million, Rastetter changed his tune.
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“It’s really a different dynamic that the regents are facing than they’ve faced in the last six to eight years,” he said during the April board meeting.
Some students and faculty have acknowledged a need for more revenue, and thus higher tuition rates, but others have fought the increases.
Iowa State University Student Government President Cole Staudt said many campus constituents understand the budgetary constraints facing the institutions as they try to remain competitive not just for quality students but esteemed faculty, staff and administrators.
“We don’t want to cut programs either,” he said.
But, Staudt said, continuing to raise tuition risks closing the door on those students who are accounting for a growing percentage of Iowa’s high school graduates — low-income and minority students who would be the first in their families to attend college.
“We’ve got to be wary,” Staudt said. “Because unless we’re finding ways to make sure that first-generation students and the lowest economic status students have the ability to go to college, we are pricing them out of the market.”
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