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Iowa Board of Regents looking at multi-year tuition plan for resident undergraduates

UNI could cost less than Iowa, Iowa State

Bruce Harreld, University of Iowa president, gives a report during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Bruce Harreld, University of Iowa president, gives a report during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When Iowa’s Board of Regents meets again in November, it will consider creating a new multiyear tuition model proposing annual baseline percentage increases for resident undergraduates.

Board President Mike Richards announced the prospect during this week’s regent meeting on the University of Iowa campus, noting the plan will outline a range of increases for just those students from Iowa. The universities still will be able to propose separate rate increases for non-resident and graduate students and those in costlier programs, Richard said.

He didn’t disclose specifics being considered for the residential undergraduate range, but — after hearing from University of Northern Iowa’s president about concerns his school costs too much — Richards suggested the board is listening to those appeals for differentiation between the universities.

Any plan the board agrees to in November would target implementation for the next academic year, according to Richards. And the board won’t approve any tuition increases for fall 2019, formally, until the new calendar year.

In the past, the board approved tuition rates in the fall before they would take effect. But recent midyear state funding cuts have made regents wary about cementing tuition rates, and thus tuition revenue, too soon.

Richards has said the board hopes its new multiyear model will address student and family concerns raised after state cuts in recent years prompted regents to delay tuition approval or increase rates just weeks before the start of classes.

He pitched the model as part of a more “holistic” approach toward funding the regent system with a combination of tuition revenue, state appropriations, on-campus savings, and external funding.

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“The combination of funding in these areas must equal the total resources needed for a given year. This is smart budgeting,” Richards said. “Finding the right mix is the challenge.”

Thursday’s announcement of the coming multiyear tuition map came just before the board unanimously approved — without discussion — its fiscal 2020 state appropriations request of $628.4 million. That’s up $20.6 million over current appropriations, and it represents an $18 million bump in higher education-specific dollars — which would be split $7 million each to UI and Iowa State University and $4 million to UNI.

Presidents of each of those universities said that — when paired with savings through efficiencies and tuition revenue — those state appropriations increases would help finance their strategic plans. Details of those plans, and the money needed to support them, vary by campus.

UI President Bruce Harreld, for example, said his institution needs $31.1 million to achieve goals in the areas of student success; research and discovery; and innovation and commercialization. ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said her institution needs $32.5 million to achieve goals in faculty recruitment and retention; increasing need-based student aid; and addressing facilities needs.

The balance of those totals would come in the form of tuition revenue and on-campus savings.

Harreld, for one, committed to generating about $11 million through “realignment, savings, and other activities.” He paired those comments with the same message he’s delivered to the Board of Regents before — related to the closure of some campus centers he says are not core to the UI mission.

“Since the state is no longer providing the same amount of support it did a generation ago, we can no longer perform various activities the state asked us to perform in the past,” he said — after protesters earlier in the meeting spoke in opposition to the UI plan to close its Labor Center.

“We cannot let tuition, very importantly, subsidize various activities,” Harreld said. “Therefore, we must trim or find new sources of funding for these activities.”

UNI President Mark Nook, for his campus’ part, said a $4 million state appropriations bump would help meet his school’s needs. And, he said, those look different from UI and Iowa State in that they involve leveling off tuition rates, rather than increasing them.

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“This is the entire increase that we need to run our university,” he said. “With this we would be able to hold our tuition increases under 1 percent, if not at zero, which is what we would like to do.”

Nook took a frank tone with the board Thursday in reporting a steady decrease in enrollment since 2011. Unlike at UI and ISU, which also saw declines this year but have said they want to “right-size” their student bodies, the decrease at UNI is not intentional.

The school, in fact, has a goal of adding 2,300 students by 2023 — growing its enrollment from this fall’s 11,212 to 13,500. To do that though, according to Nook, UNI needs to find a price point comfortably below its regent sister schools — making it more competitive for in-state and out-of-state students.

“The University of Northern Iowa has tuition and fees a little bit higher than Iowa State’s and a little bit below the University of Iowa,” he said. “And this is a competitive disadvantage for the University of Northern Iowa.”

To UNI efforts to grab a larger share of Iowa’s high school graduates, Nook announced plans to improve its marketing and communications, target news releases with admissions cycles, and start bringing younger high schoolers to campus — even as early as seventh and eighth grade.

“Those students will build relationships with the university and are more likely to attend,” he said. “More important, the research shows time and time again a student that has been in contact with you for three years before they matriculate has a much higher retention and graduation rate.

“They feel like they are part of the Panther family when they get there,” he said. “And are much more likely to persist to graduation.”

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

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