Budget cuts may mean higher tuition, consolidation of programs


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Some University of Iowa officials and regents said they’re concerned about Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed cuts to higher education.

The result of the cuts, some said, could be higher tuition or even college consolidation.

On Jan. 27, Branstad proposed a nearly 6 percent reduction in funding for the state’s public universities despite calls from regents for a roughly $18 million increase in funding.

“I’m not saying that I think the challenges facing the state government are not serious,” Regent Robert Downer said. “But I think spending on higher education needs to be looked at as an investment, not an expenditure.”

But Iowa continues to lose state funding. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Iowa ranked second in the nation for most funding lost from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2011, a 12.2 percent decrease.

“I think this dramatic loss of state appropriations speaks to the losses that a lot of states are seeing,” said UI Student Government President John Rigby. “It’s concerning and disappointing to see this trend continue.”

Downer said the possibility of combining programs from at least two of the regent schools — the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — is one possibility.

“I think we need to look at some changes we haven’t before,” he said. “There’s been progress with the institutions working together, but I think we need to do more. Consolidation is just one idea.”

Under this plan, Downer said, officials might only offer programs, or even whole departments, at just one university. Students at other institutions would receive credits through online programs.

UI Faculty Senate President Ed Dove said he is unsure how the UI will respond to a loss of funds, but he said consolidating the institutions is possible.

“These are things that have been considered, but ultimately, it would mean less student-professor contact hours, and that’s something to think about,” Dove said.

Regents prepared the institutions for a time when the budget would be tight, Downer said, when $35.5 million in stimulus funds ran out. UI officials had used the money for salaries and benefits as well as campus improvements.

Once the UI allocated those funds, regents increased student tuition for the 2010-11 school year by 6 percent.

But Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said tuition increases should not be the answer for regents this time around.

“I’d like to see changes made within the institution and not on backs of our students,” he said.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said House Democrats will likely do whatever they can to not only restore the proposed loss of funds but to increase funding.

“It’s crazy to think that on Thursday, we’ll have to speak to the board on behalf of UI students either endorsing or opposing something we’re still unsure about,” Rigby said about the regents’ response to cuts.

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