Tuition freeze hits major opposition from UNI students


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After months of support on all sides, the state Board of Regents’ proposed tuition freeze hit one major source of opposition: students at one of the regents’ universities.

University of Northern Iowa students stepped forward at the regents’ meeting Thursday to express their concerns about the tuition freeze and its possible effects, particularly as it relates to the undergraduate students at the University of Northern Iowa and graduate and professional students at all three regent universities. The tuition freeze would only apply to in-state undergraduate tuition.
Jordan Bancroft-Smithe, the University of Northern Iowa Student Government president, spoke to the regents on behalf of his peers.

“It is with heavy hearts and strong convictions the University of Northern Iowa Student Government declares that it does not support the tuition freeze for the 2013 and 2014 academic year,” he said. “Many of the students who were talked to by the senators saw the potential future damages and uncertainties as not worth the momentary short term from the ever increasing tuition burden students face every year.”

The regents first proposed a tuition freeze at its Sept. 12 meeting after working with University of Iowa President Sally Mason, hoping to take advantage of the low inflation rate.

The regents will officially vote on the freeze at its telephonic meeting in December.

Before the final vote takes place, UNI hopes to receive a $4 million appropriation from the state Legislature in order to supplement the lost tuition revenue from a 6.8 percent drop in enrollment that occurred this fall.

But the Legislature won’t meet until next year to determine the appropriation requests that will be fulfilled, leaving unanswered questions for UNI.

The concerns of the Northern Iowa Student Government follow a meeting with David Vaudt, the Iowa state auditor, where he advised students to always consider the long-term effects when making decisions.

When the governing student body looked long-term, it decided the tuition freeze was counterintuitive for the university.

“Supporting such uncertainty would be nothing short of a gamble,” Bancroft-Smithe said.

Iowa residents account for 90.4 percent of UNI’s student population, meaning 90.4 percent of the tuition revenue would freeze if the proposal passed. In comparison, in-state students made up 54.8 percent of the UI’s students in 2011 and approximately 62 percent of ISU’s 2012 student population.

In response to Bancroft-Smithe’s concerns, Regent President Craig Lang said that although there is uncertainty for the $4 million appropriation, UNI needs the freeze to stay competitive.

“We’re concerned about the competitiveness of the in-state tuition, even as it relates to the public universities in other states,” Lang said.  “We’re concerned with 865 less students and what happens if you increase tuition.”

UNI President Ben Allen appreciates the students’ thinking, but he remains concerned for UNI’s competitive edge over the other regent universities.

“I’m concerned we would be higher than the [UI and ISU],” Allen said.

Although Lang said the goal was to keep the universities affordable and accessible, the appropriation is essential for UNI.

“We’re working a bit from faith, which isn’t long-term strategy,” he said.

While students at the UI and ISU expressed overall approval of the freeze, students from both universities voiced concerns about tuition increases for graduate students.

“Resident graduate and professional students feel the increase in their tuition is mainly because the university can get away with it politically,” said ISU President of the Student Body Jared Knight.

Knight then said the tuition rises at the same rate for nonresident graduate and professional students as it does for undergraduate students — except in the case of a freeze.

Michael Appel, the president of the UI Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, stepped forward to encourage the regents to take a hard look at the way Iowans value their graduate and professional students.

A group of UI graduate students stood in the IMU during the regents meeting protesting tuition and fee increases. They held a banner for the UE-Local 896 COGS union, a union that represents teaching and research assistants at the UI along with posters reading, “Say ‘NO’ to tuition and fee increases” and “Fund higher education.”

Despite conflicting viewpoints, the regents will look to the Legislature to approve the $4 million appropriation to support UNI, so they can move forward with a tuition freeze.

“If this money is not appropriated, then we have to reconsider what we’re talking about today,” Lang said.

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