Iowa regents unveil 5-year tuition model

Annual 3-percent hike guaranteed

(FILE PHOTO) Regent President Michael Richards talks during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iow
(FILE PHOTO) Regent President Michael Richards talks during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Tuition rates for University of Iowa and Iowa State University resident undergraduates will increase at least 3 percent every year for the next five years, Board of Regents President Mike Richards announced Thursday.

In announcing “guardrails” for looming tuition hikes — aimed at helping students and families better plan for the cost of college — Richards said lawmakers can keep UI and ISU increases from rising above the 3-percent mark by annually supporting in full the board’s appropriations request.

For the upcoming budget year beginning July 1, 2019, the board is seeking an $18 million bump in general education support from the state.

Should the state reject annual regent requests for more money and keep appropriations flat, the board will implement tuition increases at UI and Iowa State equal to 3 percent plus the projected Higher Education Price Index — anticipated at 2 percent in the current budget year.

That means, if the price index holds steady, resident undergraduate rates at Iowa’s largest public universities could increase as much as 5 percent next year.

“If the state partially funds our appropriations request, the base undergraduate rate will be somewhere within the defined range,” Richards said.

The board specifically excluded its third public institution — University of Northern Iowa — from the new tuition-setting model, citing evidence that school “needs to be more competitive in pricing than other Midwest comprehensive universities, which will help them attract students.”

“In the past, all the universities were treated the same,” Richards said. “Clearly, they are not the same. Each one is unique; they have different missions with different focuses and programs.”

UNI, the only of Iowa’s three public universities actively looking to grow, saw disappointing enrollment decreases this fall — with a 6-percent drop in its total head count and corresponding below-expectations tuition revenue. Its $81.1 million in tuition income was $2.2 million under budget.

“We cannot continue to treat the institutions the same,” Richards said. “For UNI, if the state fully funds their request, we will begin to take steps to make them more competitively priced with other Midwest comprehensive universities.”

The degree and the amount, he said, will depend on their appropriation. Richards clarified he does not foresee UNI decreasing its enrollment. Rather, he said, as UNI’s regional peers increase their rates, its will hold steady.

As for UI and ISU’s rising rates, they have breathing room. Board of Regents reports show Iowa State’s resident undergraduate tuition and fees is lowest among its peers at $8,988, while UI’s is second to last among its peer group at $9,267.

Only University of North Carolina has a lower tuition-and-fees combination at $8,987, while some universities about double Iowa and Iowa State — including University of Illinois at $16,004 and Penn State University at $18,454.

“When comparing resident undergraduate rates, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are considerably lower than comparable universities,” Richards said.

In changing the way it sets tuition, which requires two readings, Richards also announced a permanent shift in the board’s schedule — which used to hold a first tuition reading in October and a second in December.

Due to recent, back-to-back state cuts that pulled university funding after December and prompted regents to revisit and increase previously-set tuition rates, Richards said the board from now on will hold a first tuition reading in April and cast final approval in June.

Although that’s just two months before the start of the fall semester, the five-year tuition outlook should help, Richards said, noting late approval is better than committing to one rate and then changing it later.

“This is not how we want to treat Iowa students and families,” he said. “We will set tuition once.”

Regarding tuition rates for non-resident students or those in costlier programs, the universities for years have been differentiating their costs — charging more, for example, for students on engineering or medical paths.

And the Board of Regents on Thursday stressed tuition is just one spoke necessary in turning the institutional wheels. They also need adequate state support and ever-improving campus efficiency.

“We also expect the universities to remain innovative with their financial and capital resources,” Richards said. “We expect them to look for additional opportunities to leverage our physical and intellectual assets in new ways. We want them to look at other creative initiatives that have been implemented across the country and determine if they will work here in Iowa.” l Comments: (319) 339-3158;