Branstad disagrees with Iowa House subcommittee vote on tuition freeze


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State politicians who advocate a tuition freeze at regents universities say the onus lies on the institutions to control their spending before asking students to pay more.

But Gov. Terry Branstad voiced disagreement over a House committee's proposed tuition freeze for Iowa regent universities at a press conference Monday.

"I don't think freezing the tuition or having the Legislature impose limits on the tuition is the appropriate way to go," Branstad said.

The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously last week to freeze the tuition of the three state universities.

Rep. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said his opposition to raising tuition comes partially on account of the state economy.

"Obviously, we are in difficult economic times," said Garrett, an Appropriations Committee member. "You [cannot] put an increase in tuition in that context, [when] a lot of people are struggling to pay it right now."

Fellow Appropriations Committee member Steve Lukan, R-New Vienna, agreed, saying appropriations legislators would like to see more universities controlling costs internally.

"Other actions need to be taken to cut wasteful spending before you raise tuition," he said. "Sabbaticals or retired professors having staff and office space."

But Branstad said he believed the regents are much more fit to make tuition decisions because they directly oversee the universities and understand their needs.

Regent Robert Downer shared Branstad's disapproval.

"I think tuition freezes simply don't work in the long term," he said. "Where this is done for a year or two, institutions find out they have become very backed up on things that they should be spending money on, followed by double-digit increases to catch up. I think the worst thing that we could do is put the institutions on a course where quality declines."

Instead, he advocated for consistent moderate increases in regent tuition.

"Universities should [raise tuition] on a consistent basis rather than having peaks and valleys," he said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said state legislators need to make sure university operating costs have a threshold of funding.

"It's too bad [the House Appropriations Committee] is making a game out of something as serious as education and the future for our universities," he said.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, also agreed with Branstad.

"It's a horrible idea," Dvorsky said.

Downer said the regents have been particularly responsible and moderate with tuition increases since 2004, and the highest increase has been 6 percent.

"We have not done anything, in my opinion, which would show that we haven't tried to be responsive to the needs of students and their families, and the needs of the institutions," he said.

Branstad said he will not make a decision on whether to veto any freeze until after the House and Senate have reached a final agreement.

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