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Maximize UI's local return to garner state investment

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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As if on cue, the state Board of Regents appears poised to move forward on a proposal that would raise tuition rates at all three of the state's public universities.

In response, student organizations across the state have said they will step up lobbying efforts in order to postpone tuition hikes or, at the very least, minimize any potential increases. This lobbying effort includes many University of Iowa Student Government members who have pledged to lobby more aggressive than in past years; using such means as town-hall meetings to garner support from the state's taxpayers.

If the UI wishes to successfully solicit more money from taxpayers, it needs to show it is committed to rewarding its contributions to the fullest extent.

What's become pre-eminently clear from the response of many state lawmakers (and painfully, even from regents) is that the UI suffers from a perception of community inessentiality. While this perception is debatable, it has also become clear that some of Iowa's legislators don't care to listen to students, as evidenced by Republican Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck's comments in June.

"I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby for funds," he said. "That's just my opinion. I wish you guys the best … but this political theater — leave the circus to us."

It's clear that the UI administration should attempt to renew its focus on providing state and community offerings in an effort to regain legislative support and state funding to combat rising costs of college attendance.

The responsibilities of any public flagship transcend the mere functions of providing education to students and maintaining fiscal viability. Undoubtedly, publicly funded schools should be expected to contribute to those that help to fund it, first and foremost. While the university's contribution has been somewhat substantial over the years, problems arise when the taxpayers and legislators consider the actions of higher-level management at Iowa's regent institutions.

In the case of the UI, it's easy to see how this has led to widespread disillusionment with institutional policies. Many wasteful policies — expensive faculty "searches" and the high-cost construction of auxiliary facilities — have resulted in increased costs for Iowa's student population and the state's workers who pay into the appropriation pool.

Considering out-of-state students' vital monetary contribution, the UI should continue to pursue nonresidents while curtailing the expensive recruitment of international students — but what comes after is more important to taxpayer investment.

Iowa's regent universities should make continued efforts to retain students long after graduation and professional employment begins. Admirable programs like this exist. Legislators must recognize their importance and augment their influence to optimize taxpayer funding.

"[Through programs like] Consider Iowa, students can learn about opportunities and careers in the state," said Angi McKie, the director of marketing and public relations at the Pomerantz Career Center. She emphasized that the organization was a "way to get [graduates] thinking about opportunities here in Iowa as young professionals."

Endeavors such as this could certainly be aided by legislation eliminating or reducing income taxes for young professionals — a policy that was pursued by state Republicans in 2005. Through UI advocacy and lobbying, a policy of this type might prove quite palatable for both parties, as lower taxes could appeal to Republicans, and economic stimulus would please Democrats.

Simple outreach policies such as this could also net a multitude of positive effects for the UI. On one hand, economic success could, in theory, easily translate into larger state appropriations and a renewed understanding of value in the UI's programs. Thus, the state would relearn the value of its regent institutions and be reappraise its funding.

While it's questionable whether the UI has worked hard enough to maintain affordable in-state tuition rates, it's not hard to understand why state lawmakers have questioned the university's contribution due to its apparent lack of deference to the state that helps keep it afloat.

University administrators should recognize their responsibilities and reconcile some of their differences in Des Moines, before attendance costs become even more astronomical to the population the institution is meant to serve.

Raising tuition should be the final resort. Lately, however, it seems to be the knee-jerk reaction.


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