Mason: Increased funding could help UI retention rates


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University of Iowa President Sally Mason said increasing higher-education funding could help keep more students in the state's universities.

The state Board of Regents is requesting a $40 million increase in funding this year. Mason said in an interview with The Daily Iowan Thursday that money could help support UI retention efforts.

The UI has struggled to get first-year students to return. In 2003, only 82 percent of freshmen came back for their sophomore years at the UI. That number increased to almost 86 percent in 2010, Mason said, because of retention efforts the UI has launched.

"It really is all about student success and all the things that we're doing to help students, not only in their academics and classroom experiences, but in all the things that would allow them to ultimately stay here and finish their degrees," Mason told the DI. "Those are important."

Though the regents are only requesting what Mason called a modest budget increase, the extra funds would allow the university to expand similar programs for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Freshman retention rates did fall 1 percentage point between 2009 and 2010, but UI Senior Associate Registrar Thomas Kruckeberg said he's confident the numbers will improve.

"We're making improvements," he said. "We took a slight dip, but overall, we're making improvements."

Regent Robert Downer said he supports the things the UI has done to increase retention.

"I'm all for that, and a lot of the things that are being done in the areas of [living-learning communities] are very beneficial to students and increase retention, so I would certainly support those types of initiatives," he said.

Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature decreased funding for regent schools by $20 million last year, and the governor's proposed budget would restore that funding. That would essentially cancel out last year's cut, but would still fall $20 million short of the regents' request.

"We want to make sure that we can begin to provide the same kinds of services and expanded services for sophomores, juniors, and seniors," Mason said. "That's what this money would all us to do — is really help expand the success programs put in place for freshmen across the board."

However, Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, said the regents' $40 million funding request for this year is out of reach.

"If we can find the $20 million increase for regents that the governor has proposed, I think that would be the best that can be expected," he said. "I do not believe we can find another $20 million on top of that to get to the $40 million."

If lawmakers don't provide that $40 million to regents, Downer said, a tuition increase may be inevitable.

"We set tuition based upon this request, and we'll have to take another look at it when we get the numbers," he said. "We may have to look at some higher tuition. We don't like to suggest it, but that's what we may be facing."

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