Higher education

University of Iowa President Harreld backs tuition hike

Money needed for school to maintain 'world-class' status

University of Iowa presidential candidate Bruce Harreld delivers remarks during the fourth and final public forum for candidates at the Iowa Memorial Union on the UI campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
University of Iowa presidential candidate Bruce Harreld delivers remarks during the fourth and final public forum for candidates at the Iowa Memorial Union on the UI campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With the Board of Regents just weeks away from voting on across-the-board tuition hikes for the upcoming school year, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld is making a case for the increases in a message to faculty, staff and students.

“Low tuition may be good for students in the short term,” Harreld wrote in the campuswide message on Thursday. “But if the quality of the education that their alma mater provides declines, the value of their degree — no matter how hard they themselves worked or researched or who they studied with — may change.”

During the board’s first reading earlier this month of a tuition increase that would raise rates $300 for resident undergraduate students at UI, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa — and even more for most UI non-resident and graduate students — UI students proposed a compromise amounting to $200 more for all students.

The proposal facing a board vote on July 18 would increase rates by as much as $800 — depending on student level, residency and program type — and generate about $21.1 million. That revenue, according to board and university officials, aims to supplant shortcomings in state funding.

The board had requested $20.3 million in state appropriations for the upcoming budget year but instead received $6.3 million to be split between the three institutions.

Any increase the board approves adds to a last-minute tuition increase the board approved around the same time last year — after state funding similarly fell short. That increase, which amounted to a $200 annual increase for resident undergraduates, went into effect for ISU and UNI students in the spring and is scheduled to take effect for UI students this fall.

Before the UI students surprised the board with a $200 alternate proposal during its June meeting, Gov. Terry Branstad also called the regents’ new proposal too high and advocated for a more modest increase.

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But Harreld in his message this week warned against tinkering with the $21.1 million revenue boost that would come from the tuition increase as proposed.

“We can take our university and our state to new heights, but not if we continue to lose our current faculty or are unable to recruit new talent,” he wrote. “That is why we seek new revenue from the citizens of our state and our students, as well as increased grant funding and support from our donors.”

Harreld said the university is losing “many of our best” to other institutions — including those in the university’s competitive peer group like other Big Ten institutions and the universities of California, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas.

A Board of Regents report earlier this year showed a surge in UI faculty resignations in the 2015 budget year, jumping from 66 in 2014 to 90 – the highest number since at least 2006. Departing faculty are asked to complete questionnaires and exit interviews, and respondents in 2015 expressed the most dissatisfaction with compensation, according to the board report.

“The primary reason respondents gave for leaving the university was to accept a position at another university,” the report states, noting that nearly 46 percent of respondents left for another post.

Harreld, during a town hall meeting earlier this year, presented data showing the university’s faculty salary ranking according to the U.S. News & World Report has slipped 20 positions over the past decade.

“Vying for the best faculty with institutions like these requires significant resources, and we have fewer and fewer at our disposal,” he wrote.

Harreld praised the “world-class” education UI students are receiving right now thanks to the “world-class” faculty in place. And he said the university has been fiscally responsible and kept costs under control.

But, he said, erosion of state support for higher education has shifted the revenue source.

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“What has changed is who pays for the University of Iowa,” he wrote. “The proportion of state funding in the general education fund has dramatically declined over the past 15 years. Now we are at a breaking point where mere cost efficiencies are no longer sufficient.”

Harreld pushed his message anticipating UI’s move from “great to greater,” by saying “Being the best in Iowa is no longer sufficient.”

“Our students, alumni, and the citizens of this state deserve and expect more,” he wrote. “I will fight as hard as I can for the University of Iowa in the next legislative session, and with your continued support, I am confident we will deliver on those expectations.”

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