Mason: Rising utility costs partly to blame for tuition hike


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University of Iowa officials say keeping the lights on is one cause of the continual rise in tuition Iowa students have seen.

And one of the main factors contributing to the increased tuition rate lies in the costs of maintenance and utilities on campus, UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan on Tuesday.

Energy is a cost officials say the university has little control over, despite continued measures to improve sustainability, she said.

"We continue to look for cost efficiencies and take some of this into our own hands," she said.

During the current school year, UI tuition has increased 5 percent for in-state and 6 percent for out-of-state students.

The state Board of Regents will be discussing a slight increase in undergraduate tuition this week, with a proposal of a 3.75 percent increase for in-state and 4.75 percent increase out-of-state students.

But UI officials said university construction projects — including the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building — led to more maintenance and facility costs.

"As that slice of the pie gets bigger, programs have to get cut or tuition increases to offset costs," said Glen Mowery, the director of utilities and energy for UI Facilities Management.

This academic year, the university's utility enterprise budget is $85 million, he said. The budget for utilities continues to rise each year because of increases in costs, he noted.

But the UI is still looking for ways to reduce these costs.

This includes alternative fuels, to steer away from fossil fuels and developing a strictly biomass market.

Don Szeszycki, UI associate vice president in the Provost's Office, said though utilities contributes significantly to overall costs, it is only one part of the budget.

"The challenge we have is estimating the 2012 projections, when the most recent data we have is from 2010," Szeszycki said.

He noted the general budget also contributes to other areas, including salaries and benefits.

"It's a little more complicated than [just] utilities," Szeszycki said. "When we talk about what our needs are, we need to make assumptions of what our costs are going to be."

But other regent institutions say their increases aren't coming from an uptick in their utility bills.

Dave Miller, associate vice president for facilities at Iowa State University, said utilities were not the reason behind ISU's tuition increase because ISU buildings each have their own utility bills — a change ISU made to the billing system three years ago.

Miller said Iowa State officials look at three rates when assessing utilities: electricity, chilled water, and steam.

The assessments have shown a minimal increase of less than 1 percent over the past year, making the roughly $38 million utilities billed to all customers an "insignificant pressure on the budget," Miller said.

Dean Shoars, the director of the physical plant at the University of Northern Iowa said the fuel budget doesn't disproportionately affect students tuition. UNI's $5.4 million fuel budget includes electricity, and coal.

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