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Officials mull tuition alternatives

BY ARIANA WITT | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Some Iowa legislators and national education experts have called on the state Board of Regents to consider alternative tuition models during future funding discussions.

But some regents said the switch might not be so easy in uncertain economic times.

Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he would like to discuss alternative tuition models in the next legislative session, and he said the Florida model of tuition is a possibility for Iowa.

There, parents are allowed to lock tuition at its current rate for their future college students, said Tom Mims, a program specialist for the Florida Department of Education.

“The key reason this works in Florida is that they have millions of dollars in this fund and are able to maximize interest rates,” Kaufmann said. “In Iowa, it would take a while to build up those funds.”

But Florida legislators proposed removing the current agreement because it wasn’t adequately funding institutions, he said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said “freezing” tuition, as well as room and board and food costs, would be ideal.

“It’s a good idea, but it has to be paired with a certain percentage of funding by the state in terms of what the state government would be willing to supply,” he said.

In Oregon, higher-education officials practice the “shared responsibility model,” in which money from students, families, and federal sources is put toward tuition, and a pool of state dollars makes up any difference, said Diane Saunders, the director of communications for the Oregon University System. But the amount of state money in that pool is diminishing, causing students to make up the difference.

In the fall, the regents decided to delay their decision on tuition to hear Nate Johnson, a higher-education expert, speak about these two and other models.

The regents have since approved a 5 percent tuition hike for in-state students, a figure that based solely on the Higher Education Price Index, an inflation index used by universities to set rates.

Some regents and UI President Sally Mason said shifting to alternative models must occur over time and in the right circumstances.

Regent Jack Evans said the regents would not consult outside committees on the subject because changes to the tuition model are the regents’ decision.

“The tuition discussion is an ongoing process and is dynamic, and we are always searching for better ways to establish those numbers,” Evans said.

Regent President David Miles also criticized one of the alternatives, saying if students expected an arrangement in which tuition did not change for four years, it would come at a steep cost. And uncertainty in funding makes changing the current tuition set up difficult.

“In order to lock tuition for a period of time, universities would have to significantly increase the tuition for an incoming class to make sure no tuition increase would be needed for coming years,” Miles said. “How do we deal with that?”

In an April interview with The Daily Iowan, Mason echoed Miles’ concern with changing the tuition model.

“It’s hard to say at this point, whether that’s the right thing to do here in Iowa,” she said. “I think what we really need to do is see how strong the economy will be going forward, as we continue to come through this economic time of turmoil.”


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