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Legislator wants restrictions on tuition hikes

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | JANUARY 18, 2011 7:10 AM

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One frustrated Iowa legislator plans to present a budget amendment this week that would restrict the state Board of Regents from increasing tuition to compensate for state budget cuts.

Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he hopes his proposal will force the regents to look inward when making budget cuts, particularly in areas of administration.

The amendment will be tacked onto the proposed Republican budget, which, if passed, would cut funding for university libraries and professional-development assignments for faculty across the state. Despite the cuts and a growing gap between state funding and tuition at regent universities, Kaufman’s proposal would bar regents from hiking tuition.

“The underlying problem is regents refusing to cut, and [they have] gotten into a habit of … putting [it] on the backs of students,” Kaufmann said.

Despite flack from legislators and higher-education officials alike, he said, he’s adamant about the issue and remains upset with past administrative decisions — such as an adding a University of Iowa administrator, the vice president for Strategic Communication, following a 6 percent tuition hike last year — which, he said, greatly affect students.

“They’re hurting the most valuable commodity in the state: our young people,” he said.

Kaufmann, who has served in the House since 2004, has proposed several bills over the years on regent accountability, including a Regent Reform Bill, which proposed voting in regents rather than appointing them, and the Tuition Reduction Fund, which detailed ways to counter tuition hikes, both of which failed.

While Kaufmann said his past proposals were “broader” and included everything from task forces to elections of regents, Wednesday’s amendment will focus directly on the cuts covered in the bill.
While regents acknowledge the concern, they still want the freedom to make decisions.

“I generally feel that the best governance by the Board of Regents comes when we’re not given specific mandates to do one thing or another,” said Regent Robert Downer.

Kaufmann doesn’t deny the proposal is a form of micromanaging but said he feels there’s no other choice, and he is tired of leaving budgetary cuts up to administrators who are “taking the easy route” by compensating at the students’ expense.

Democratic lawmakers were largely unaware of the proposed amendment, which Kaufmann discussed with Republicans on the Education Committee.

“The funny thing is what he’s asking is to cut funding to the university and then also make sure that the university doesn’t raise tuition,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, calling it “goofy math.”

Kaufmann and Jacoby said neither parties are communicating with the other.

“If it’s efficiency he’s looking for … I’d be glad to sit down and work on them with him,” Jacoby said.

University of Iowa Student Government President John Rigby said he, along with student-government presidents at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, intend to make a “visual presence” at the Capitol in the coming months to keep student issues in mind.

“I hope the new Legislature realizes the importance of higher education,” he said.


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