Bill fails, but GOP lawmakers say they'll continue push to reform tuition, salaries


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Tuition increases across the nation coupled with declining state and federal support have left policymakers searching for ways to offset the burden on students.

And despite a failed proposal from several Republican lawmakers last week targeting university presidents' salaries, one legislator says they will continue to offer similar legislation.

"Ultimately, there has to be the nerve to do something, people lose the fact that the students are the ones that we are supposed to be fighting for and make it about the president," said Rep. Jeremy Taylor, Sioux City.

Under the failed proposal, public university presidents wouldn't receive pay increases if tuition went up.

In 2011, University of Iowa President Sally Mason made more than $470,000, Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy made roughly $420,000, and University of Northern Iowa President Benjamin Allen made $320,000.

The GOP proposal died in committee, but Taylor said he and several other House Republicans will keep trying to make universities more accountable to tuition hikes.

Last year, for instance, a statehouse Republican sponsored legislation that would require the UI to sell a famous Jackson Pollock painting. The bill designated the proceeds — estimated to be $140 million — would be used to provide scholarships for students.

"This is an out-of-the box option to try avoiding a tuition increase and provide students [the ability] to go to Iowa," Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told The Daily Iowan last year. "People will be upset about any decision you make; you just have to decide whether you should do it."

Wagner later withdrew the bill.

But Taylor said constant legislative action will make such bills harder for policymakers to ignore.

"I think the pressure will build," he said. "We'll have more and more legislators that will have to take action."

Some experts say the tensions between tuition and state appropriations is being felt across the nation.

Julie Bell, the education program director for the National Conference of State Legislators, said deciding how much a state should subsidize education is a very important issue.

"This issue of how all the different players in higher education have a responsibility in how tuition plays out is happening all over the country," Bell said. "The effects are serious in terms of student debt … some students are going to be priced out of higher education and this really isn't fair."

Larry Isaac, the president of Midwestern Higher Education Compact, said states are finding it harder to find ways to allocate monies to higher education.

"There are reduced state revenues," he said. "And secondly, states are being asked to spend more on other areas of the budget — Medicare and Medicaid and corrections."

Regent Robert Downer said it is always possible to hold off on tuition increases, but without the state funding available, quality and quantity of the universities services would suffer.

Downer said Iowa regent universities have not had high tuition increases compared with other states.

"The quality and quantity would be reflected in the decrease of value in degrees," Downer said, including the ability for graduates to obtain jobs. "[Freezing tuition] is a poor bargain."

But Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said halting compensation for university presidents is "not a bad idea" if the universities receive proper funding.

"The first question is if House Republicans and Gov. [Terry] Branstad will adequately fund [the schools]," he said, noting the roughly $50 million taken school funding. "If we can adequately fund it, then we can expect tuition to hold and/or administrative salaries to be decreased."

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