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Iowa university student governments lobby to legislature for tuition freeze

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | MARCH 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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DES MOINES — In between the chimes of bells beckoning legislators for votes, student representatives from Iowa’s three regent universities gathered at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Wednesday to lobby for higher-education funding.

“Students are the best source to make their argument … because they bring the unique perspective of actually being on campus,” Regent Hannah Walsh said. “We’re a direct result of all of this.”

One of the major focuses for the student representatives is the passage of a tuition freeze next year for in-state undergraduate students. This would freeze tuition for in-state undergraduate students at all three regent universities.

“While Iowans continue to enroll in record numbers, tuition remains a significant barrier for many who would otherwise attend our university,” said Matt Pruss, Iowa State University student ambassador.

UI Student Government President Nic Pottebaum said he believes the freeze will pass given its current broad bipartisan support from both houses as well as Gov. Terry Branstad.

“I presume moving forward, it’s not necessarily something they will be fighting over,” he said.

However one possible area of contention when the Legislature discusses higher education funding could focus on the topic of tuition set-aside. Under the state Board of Regents’ proposed plan, $39.5 million in state funding would be used to replace the current tuition set-asides program. Tuition set-asides take from tuition dollars and redistribute them to students who demonstrate financial need.

One representative the UI group spoke with said House Republicans do not support the plan.

“Our caucus isn’t strong on replacing the set-side,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage. “The regents got themselves into this mess; there’s no support for backfill dollars on our side.”

Byrnes also told Pottebaum, Michael Appel, the president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, and other UI representatives he wants to ensure that Iowans benefit from their investment in students from outside of the United States, especially if foreign students leave after graduation.

“We are giving away a commodity to out-of-state and out-of country students. Education in Iowa is one of our best commodities, and we need to make sure there is a good price for our investment,” he said. “The UI gets a lot of foreign students, and we want to see federal action help keep them here in the U.S.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the restoration of past higher-education cuts over the next few years is the “highest priority,” along with his support of the tuition freeze.

“We can’t get it all back in one year, but if we take a step forward in each of the next couple years I think that’s a worthy goal,” he said. “ We really want a hold on tuition, and make it more affordable.”


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