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Tuition freeze not the best option for fighting college cost

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 10, 2009 7:30 AM

We were wrong.

In an editorial earlier this week, this Editorial Board endorsed the idea of UI Student Government leaders pursuing a tuition freeze. After discussions with representatives from each of the parties in next week’s UISG election, however, we’ve rethought that stance.

Make no mistake: Tuition control should still be a top priority for the next generation of student leaders. However, locking in tuition rates is not the best means to that end. Rather than ensuring lower tuition, a freeze would place undue burden on incoming students, ultimately making the UI a less attractive university.

Say, for instance, we promise next year’s incoming freshmen they’ll pay $6,500 in tuition and fees each year for four years. Then, suppose state funding dries up more than it has so far. Without the option of increasing tuition across the board, the state Board of Regents and university officials would have two options: cut programs, faculty, and services or startle the next incoming class with a huge tuition increase. Regardless of the bureaucratic plausibility of putting a tuition freeze in place, the plan simply isn’t practical.

Each year, the UI aims to offer more services. The problem: Each year, support from the state government fails to keep up with the needs of a growing university. Relative to tuition, state appropriations have decreased each year for nearly three decades, UI President Sally Mason pointed out at Wednesday’s budget forum. Officials have no other choice than to bump up tuition each year.

If lawmakers approve Gov. Chet Culver’s budget cuts, the regents would likely see around a 12 percent budget cut compared with last year. That would probably equate to a $26 million cut from the UI’s budget.

Administrators have made some good changes to try to operate more efficiently. Mason and other administrators from Iowa’s three regent universities, for example, plan to forgo bonuses for the next fiscal year. UI Provost Wallace Loh has been reluctant to disclose details of cuts until he knows for sure how deep those cuts will be. But there is no question whether some programs will suffer.

Loh has proven himself to be an effective decision-maker. He is undoubtedly being faced with tough choices, but we have confidence in his ability to make the right ones. The UI will undoubtedly survive this round of budget cuts and — we hope — will emerge as a leaner institution.

But look at the broader picture; Iowa’s higher-education institutions cannot continually cut programs, faculty, and overall quality. Neither can these universities continue to plague students with ever-increasing tuition and fees.

But instead of discussing ways to combat tuition increases, some candidates in next week’s UISG election have focused on debating which e-mail provider offers the best services. Such debates are nothing more than irrelevant. If UISG really wants to bill itself as an advocate for students, its leaders must step up and fight for affordable education.

The next student-government president should aim to increase our efforts in lobbying state lawmakers for sufficient appropriations. UI students, led by current UISG President Maison Bleam, traveled to Des Moines earlier this week to attempt to persuade state lawmakers to fully fund the regents’ budget request. Bleam said he wanted to ensure “student voices are heard.” Good intentions, to be sure, but exactly how many student voices got heard that day? Well, fewer than a dozen UI students made that trip. On top of that, lobbying trips to the Capitol by UISG members only happen about once a month. That showing is embarrassing.

Ryan Kopf, L Party’s presidential candidate, understands that. He has outspokenly supported the prospect of increasing lobbying efforts. He expects that will put officials in a position in which they can keep tuition steady. Your Party and Go Party have shown their ability to energize and motivate hundreds of students. Let’s harness that excitement and use it to accomplish something besides wearing T-shirts and handing out fliers. The next class of UISG leaders must commit to lobbying state lawmakers. Why don’t we flood Des Moines with dozens and dozens of students who are willing to stand up for affordable education? Maybe their demands will go unfulfilled, but we cannot continue to sit by while programs are cut and tuition grows.


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