Iowa policymakers: Eliminating tuition hikes challenging


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Iowa policymakers agree with President Obama that making higher education affordable is important, but leaders here stopped short of promising to halt tuition increases.

In his State of the Union address this week, Obama said states that don't prioritize education may see their support dip.

"… So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," Obama said in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night. "Higher education can't be a luxury — it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."

But state officials say such cuts could target schools unfairly because tuition jumps are sometimes unavoidable.

Iowa Regent Robert Downer said he largely agreed with Obama, but extraneous factors can make tuition increases inescapable.

"I am in agreement with his concerns about excessive tuition increases but feel that the colleges and universities are not solely at fault," Downer wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. "State appropriations have taken a hit in nearly every state — in some cases, for good reasons due to the economic downturn."

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said she believes the state should take some responsibility to ensure postsecondary education is a viable option for students.

"I believe you want all kids to reach their potential, and if that's a four-year degree for some, if it's a two-year tech degree, we need to support that as well," she said. "There are different routes students go and whatever route they choose, we need to make sure the means are there for them to afford it."

Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said due to budget gaps in expenditures and revenue last year, each area in the state budget saw a decrease, including appropriations for higher education. Funding for higher education was cut by $20 million last year at the state level.

"You have to understand the size and the scope of the terrible financial ruin that 'plighted' us when we got to office," Albrecht said.

While most areas will likely see stagnant appropriations, Branstad plans to increase funding for state universities by $20 million this year, Albrecht said.

"He recognizes that higher education is a priority, but it has to be looked at in the scope of the total $6 billion budget," Albrecht said. "You have to look at all of the needs that currently state government has with regards to funding. He still made regents a priority."

Mascher said she believes making higher education affordable should be one of the top priorities for the state.

"I know we'll have the same battles this session, and we'll continue to work on finding how we'll fund our universities and regent schools across the state and making sure it's a viable option for many students, and it only becomes viable if it is affordable," she said.

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