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Branstad backs restoring funds to higher education

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said on Tuesday he will make a commitment to restore higher-education funding once the recession is over and more money is funneled into the state’s economy.

Though he noted he wants to “do a better job” providing more stable appropriations, Branstad defended his proposed budget cuts to Iowa’s struggling universities, saying he inherited a “colossal mess” he promised to fix.

“I’m a strong supporter of education,” Branstad told The Daily Iowan in Des Moines. “But I also have an obligation to balance the budget and to do it in a way that’s going to be sustainable for the long term.”

Leaning into his black leather chair in the Governor’s Office, the 64-year-old discussed funds to higher education, tuition increases, and how he managed the budget as president of Des Moines University before beginning his second run as governor.



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For Branstad, the issue of rising tuition costs is personal.

“I am very sensitive to the issue of tuition because I come from a very humble background,” Branstad said, donning a yellow ‘I heart Hawks’ pin on the lapel of his suit. “I was a student at the University of Iowa; my family was not in the position to pay tuition.”

Branstad said his college experience is similar to that of many current UI students. He worked in the cafeteria, had a summer job, and graduated with student loans.

And he didn’t get those loans paid off until his first term as governor.

And while Branstad said higher education is a priority, he noted Iowa needs to live within the realities of the funding it has, and that means creating a two-year budget with a five-year projection.

Branstad proposed slashing higher-education funding by 6 percent for fiscal 2012 when regents called for an $18 million increase. This comes after roughly $118 million in cuts over the past two years.

Regent President David Miles has openly decried the cuts, telling legislators earlier this year regents would need to increase tuition by 12.6 percent to make up for the funding gap.

“Public higher education in Iowa can only do more with less for so long before quality, access, and affordability are all compromised — perhaps beyond repair,” he told the education-appropriations subcommittee in February.

Branstad said he thinks universities need to be more efficient in their spending but understands increasing tuition is another form of revenue for universities when the state does not have additional money to provide.

However, he said he wishes the tuition increase would have been lower. Regents have approved a 5 percent increase in in-state tuition and 6 percent hike for out-of-state students for the 2011-12 academic year.

“I would have preferred the increase maybe to not have been as high as that,” he said, noting that when he served as president of Des Moines University, a private school, officials tried to keep tuition increases at or below the Higher Education Price Index.

But regents and UI officials have repeatedly said they made tuition as modest as possible without threatening the quality of education.

“Is it possible to reduce the costs of the institutions, absolutely,” said Regent Robert Downer. “If you terminate faculty, reduce library materials, decrease course offerings, but it’s going to take a major cut out of the quality of these institutions.”

Branstad also suggested universities grow enrollment, which all three have, and seek opportunities to provide more scholarships and financial aid.

But Regent Michael Gartner said Branstad’s idea to supplement tuition increases with more privately funded scholarships is “ingenuous,” and budget cuts in the regents’ universities have been made in many different areas.

“[Branstad] proposed a massive cut in appropriations without consulting with [Regent President David] Miles, and now he’s saying that these guys should cut their costs, but they have cut costs dramatically,” Gartner said. “The governor’s budget went too far.”

Overall, Branstad said, he understands the frustration with the cuts but hopes Iowans will soon see the benefits of a stronger economy.

“I think you’ll see that we inherited a real mess, we’re in the process of straightening it out,” he said.

“I’m convinced that if we do the biannual budget, and [I] get the incentives I need to bring the business and jobs to Iowa, that we will be in a much stronger position in the second [half] of this administration.”


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