Regents hike tuition, give surcharge back


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AMES — The state Board of Regents took with one hand and gave back with the other on Thursday, hiking 2010-11 tuition 6 percent, then deciding to return the $100 per student spring surcharge.

The one-time surcharge was included in this semester’s tuition costs to pour $6 million into the universities’ struggling budgets.

But Gov. Chet Culver provided another option in his most recent budget proposal. If approved by the state Legislature, his plan would restore $31 million to the regent institutions for fiscal 2010, which ends June 30.

Students at regent institutions would be credited the amount of the surcharge; the vote is contingent upon the passing of Culver’s budget.

“I think it’s an important statement by this board of thanks, basically, to the students for their willingness to do this,” Miles said.

UI President Sally Mason said she was excited about announcing the decision to revoke the surcharge after having to ask students to chip in.

“I was delighted,” she said. “It’s a great thing for students, obviously, to be able to hopefully … give that back would make a big difference.”

Some students said the return of $100 is good, but not enough.

“I would rather give them the $100 and leave tuition alone,” said UI junior Melissa Rasper. “But if they were going to increase it anyway, it’s a little better that we get the $100 back.”

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Though the regents voted unanimously to rescind the surcharge, several were conflicted about giving back the already-paid fee.

“To me, I think the problem here is that education should be the top priority for parents, for families, and for the whole state of Iowa, and that it’s an investment,” Regent Craig Lang said.

“Parents have to understand how important this investment is and that we can’t in any way lessen the opportunity.”

With a vote of 7-2, the regents also asked students and their families to invest in another way — by paying more in tuition next year.

The 6 percent increase — many resident undergraduates will see an 8.7 percent increase once fees are added in — will be implemented for the 2010-11 academic year at regent universities. Regents Ruth Harkin and Michael Gartner cast the dissenting votes.

Regent President David Miles said he realizes that 6 percent is “real money” for students, but he maintained that the regents are not in the business of making extraordinary tuition hikes.

“I would say that the commitment that we have to keeping tuition as low as we can is evidenced by the last two years, when we passed the lowest tuition increases in the past 25 years,” he said.

Other states have also responded to budget crises with tuition hikes. At the University of Texas-Austin, President William Powers is asking for a 5.4 percent increase in tuition, and the California Board of Regents voted to increase tuition midyear by 15 percent and raise student fees by 32 percent for 2010-11.

While officials have described the 6 percent increase as “modest,” the regents will set aside an additional $3.2 million in need-based aid for undergraduate students “so if this does cause a pinch in their budget, we’re hoping to be better able to respond to it,” Miles said.

The increase is only a small step on a long road to financial recovery, he said.

Miles noted that, including regents’ budget actions and Culver’s latest proposal, the regent institutions would still begin fiscal 2011 with $132 million less than in fiscal 2001.

“Our cuts are still well beyond this, and we’re by no means being made whole by the return of $31 million,” Miles said.

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