Legislators differ on higher ed. funding

BY DORA GROTE | OCTOBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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CEDAR FALLS— Some Iowa Legislators have mixed views on their responsibilities to help alleviate the burden of tuition increases on students.

The state Board of Regents discussed tuition increases between 3 and 4 percent for the 2012-13 year in Cedar Falls on Thursday. The varying figures for in-state and out-of-state students are all lower than the increases 5 and 6 percent that occurred during the 2011-12 year. The regents said they accepted the increase but called for support from state legislators.

While several state legislators said officials at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa have done their share in cutting costs, other lawmakers say they need to increase their efforts.

"Too much of a shift has been on the students, and we need to move the balance back on the state," said Sen. Herman Quirmback, D-Ames.

Regent President Craig Lang said the tuition increase is the lowest it has been in several years.

"We pledged to keep tuition at or slightly above inflation," he said.

But that is highly dependent upon Legislature coming through with the regents' request of a 4 percent state appropriation increase.

"Reaching out to legislators will be very important to make sure that happens," Lang said.

The regents asked for a 4 percent state appropriation increase, after having suffered a loss of $144 million in state funding since 2009.

"I would prefer they would have asked for more," Quirmback said. "The state ought to be paying a share of the bill."

And the cuts made in higher education did not satisfy him, he said.

"As the national economy fell into recession, we had to cut higher-education funding, and that was not something I was happy with," Quirmback said. "My position is that we ought to put together a plan to restore the cuts in the past few years."

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, agreed the state should take more responsibility in funding public universities.

He said universities have been efficient in cutting their spending, pointing to their efforts of leaving positions open after professors retired.

"It is now time for the state to provide adequate resources," Bolkcom said. "We have almost a billion dollars in reserve in the state budget, but the question is will [state appropriation for universities] be a priority for us when we go back to work."

Rep. Erik Helland, R-Johnston, said there are quite a few things universities could do to run more efficiently, including cutting programs in which only one or two students are enrolled or look into the number of faculty and staff they need instead of regents constantly asking the state for more money.

"It's not that legislators don't want to help," Helland said. "We are doing everything we can to make sure students have opportunities. I get frustrated at the regents when they seem content to ask for more and more money instead of finding a way to help students."

Regent Ruth Harkin agreed a more innovate solution to increasing tuition needs to be found.

"We honestly need to start thinking of a better business model than we have for the regent institutions," she said. "The simple fact is that our students in the state of Iowa and their families ability to pay is decreasing."

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