Tuition hike likely

BY SHAWN GUDE | APRIL 16, 2009 7:34 AM

Junior Bryan Cobb considers himself lucky.

Unlike many students who are forced to rely on student loans and financial self-sufficiency to get through college, he said he receives significant help from his parents. Still, he sympathizes with the countless students who would undoubtedly be affected by a tuition hike.

“I don’t think it will affect me too much,” Cobb said. “But I definitely know some people who are considering not coming back to school because the amount of financial aid they’ll receive isn’t commensurate with the rise in tuition.”

Many students, however, may be forced to shell out more for tuition next year.

Siding with their Iowa Senate counterparts, House lawmakers passed essentially the same fiscal 2010 education budget late Tuesday. Under the bill, the state Board of Regents would see its budget slashed by approximately 12 percent, as opposed to the roughly 8 percent reduction in most areas.

The individual state universities would receive around 13 percent less funding than the current fiscal year.

After the budget process is complete, however, Gov. Chet Culver is expected to channel millions of dollars in federal stimulus cash to the regents’ budget to lessen the blow. After such an infusion, legislators expect the regents’ actual cut to be equal to or less than the curtailments in other areas.

While the regents have the ultimate decision on tuition, such cuts to their budget can’t bode well for cash-strapped students. An increase in tuition is inevitable, and the federal stimulus funding likely won’t be used to assuage the severity of such tuition hikes.

Akin to other appropriations bills this session, the education budget passed the House with staunch Democratic support and weak Republican approval. All three area representatives — Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, and Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City — voted for the budget.
Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, conceded that the majority-party Democrats crafted a relatively good education budget, but he said the budget process has left him irked. Democrats have been inept at providing overall budget targets, he contended, instead favoring a “piecemeal,” individual-budget approach.

“When dealing with a budget of $6 billion, you can’t just vote on each bill piecemeal,” Kaufmann said. “When our spending has been partially responsible for getting us into this, I can’t continue to vote on budgets without knowing the overall picture.”

Kaufmann also bemoaned the budget’s reliance on stimulus money to prevent draconian cuts to the regents’ budget.

“It’s kind of like voting yes on a wing and a prayer,” he said, but it was difficult to fault Democrats for doing so in the current budget situation.

House legislators — predominately Republicans — filed myriad amendments to alter the bill, but the vast majority of them failed. The select few that were approved are unlikely to affect UI students’ pocketbooks.

The House and Senate passed differing education budgets, so a compromise will have to be hammered out in the coming week before the final bill is sent to the governor.

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