Regents approve 5 percent tuition hike to offset state cuts

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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AMES — Another cash-strapped year for Iowa — and students at state universities are paying for it.

The state Board of Regents voted 7-2 Wednesday to increase tuition at its three institutions, including the University of Iowa, for the 2011-12 academic year.

Most in-state students at the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa will see a 5 percent increase in tuition. At the UI, that hike totals $308 for undergraduates, $364 for graduate students.

Tuition for out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students at the UI increased 6 percent — $1,346 and $1,302 respectively.

Regent President David Miles said the increase is a small step in an attempt to break even after losing state funding.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s a very difficult balancing act for the board and a increasingly difficult decision that the board has to make.”

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Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed cutting the regent’s budget by 7.7 percent for fiscal 2012, which would slash $36.7 million. Over the past two-and-a-half years, regent institutions have seen roughly $118 million in state funding cuts.

For some students, the tuition increase will cost more, running as high as 41 percent for in-state freshmen in the UI College of Nursing. Mandatory fees for UI students also will increase by 3.1 percent.

UI officials, including President Sally Mason, had previously endorsed the hike, which comes after a 6 percent increase last year.

“We don’t know how the legislative budget will pan out, but at least we have one piece of the puzzle with tuition,” she said Wednesday.

But UI Student Government President John Rigby said he couldn’t support the decision because it will negatively affect students.

“Many of us may see this increase as modest,” he said. “But it’s not modest to the students who carry the burden of financing their futures.”

UI graduate student Kate Jochum said she feels officials contradict themselves when raising tuition: They continually encourage young people to attend college but make it increasingly more expensive to do so.

“I think it’s too bad that they feel they need to raise tuition,” she said.

Two regents — Michael Gartner and Ruth Harkin — disagreed with the increase, voting against the proposal. Harkin said the move wouldn’t solve the universities’ budget issues.

“If nothing else happens beyond the [tuition] increase, we will be at the same place next year with the same circumstances,” she said.

Gartner suggested an alternative — directly tying tuition to higher-education state appropriations. His suggestion would place the burden on state legislators and the governor, who make the budget, to keep costs for students low.

His idea, which Miles said would be too difficult to implement, would mean tuition could fluctuate based on how much state funding changed.

Regent Craig Lang said he thinks the regents should work to develop a better relationship with legislators.

“I think we need to put together a plan ahead of time to appeal toward education being a top priority to the state and show them these [universities] are a good investment to the state,” Lang said.

Miles said the regents would likely consider other models when approaching tuition in the future, such as longer discussions. But now, he said, the board’s goal should be receiving stable funding.

“We haven’t gotten there yet this year, but that’s still a goal for us,” he said.

Mason said officials will use the extra funding efficiently, and she hopes they won’t have to cut faculty.

A 5 percent increase isn’t drastic compared with that at some state universities, said Michael Griffith, senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

He said some states are discussing tuition increases of as much as 15 percent to offset declining state funding.

“Whenever you’re facing the increase, it’s always high to you,” he said. “But nationally, 5 percent is something we’ve seen in other states during good economic times.”

UI freshman Andrew Rosacker, who faces another three years of potential increases, decried the hike and said it will likely force him to look to more financial aid and scholarships to foot the bill.

“That adds up,” he said. “Even if it’s only a small amount.”

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