UI students propose town-hall meetings to push higher ed funding


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University of Iowa student leaders intend to sustain outreach efforts to increase state appropriations and are doing so by collaborating with state regent universities.

UISG decided not to back the proposed tuition increase of 3.75 percent for in-state undergraduates and 4.75 percent for out-of-state undergraduates at their meeting on Tuesday.

The state Board of Regents supported the increase at a meeting on Oct. 27.

To combat the increase, student leaders proposed the concept of a town-hall meeting to the regents on Oct. 27.

"The purpose is for students to step up and directly talk to individuals who support public universities," said Abhay Nadipuram, the governmental-relations coordinator for the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students. "If students can engage with Iowans and at least show them why universities are effective, hopefully, the community will continue to support the university, and hopefully, the universities will gain even more support."

Iowa's public universities have seen a $144 million loss in funding since 2009.

However, one education expert said universities won't see immediate changes in funding.

Jane Wellman, an executive director of the Delta Cost Project, said changing legislators' minds is "usually not that easy."

"Building good [relationships] will pay off in the long term even if it doesn't pay off in the short term," she said.

Although the meeting's details are still preliminary, Nadipuram said they would begin in January and visit communities in which there are a large number of public university graduates, communities in which people use university services, and communities in which there is an apparent disconnection with the university. He said the Executive Council would help support students' travel expenses, and the group hopes to receive support from the regents and university.

Nadipuram said town-hall meetings would be a collaboration among people from the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa traveling throughout the state, showcasing how communities are affected.

"Generally, I believe that contacts with legislators, alumni, and others around the state have been well-received," said Regent Robert Downer, who noted that people should be open to supporting the regents' institutions.

Nadipuram said it is no secret that universities have lost state appropriations over the past few years.

"Anytime students can go out and be in the backyard of Iowans and illustrate the value, it's a great, idea," said Peter Matthes, the federal-relations director for UI Governmental Relations. "It's putting a student face on the university and illustrating our students come from every county, river to river and border to border."

University of Northern Iowa Student Body President Spencer Walrath hopes it will bring the three universities together.

"I hope that it will help Iowans better understand how the state's universities have a positive effect on their communities, whether by training outstanding educators or developing improvements in storm-water management," Walrath said.

Wellman said the meetings would work as a reciprocal relationship between the universities and community members.

"People from universities will learn a lot, and communities will learn a lot, too," she said. "If it is done well, university people should be listening instead of talking."

UI student leaders are beginning the planning, and they will present a final proposal to the regents when completed.

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