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Big Ten chilling on tuition

BY KRISTEN EAST | AUGUST 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The tuition freeze for Iowa’s three public universities is here. It’s happening.

Nearly eight months after the state Board of Regents’approval, resident undergraduates studying at any of the three regent institutions are experiencing a tuition freeze for the first time in more than three decades. The freeze took effect starting with the 2013 summer session.

As administrators and students welcome the freeze, Iowa’s regent universities are not alone in their desire to cap, at least temporarily, the amount college kids are paying for their education. In fact, the number of U.S. universities to enact tuition freezes has only increased in the past year.

Looking solely at the Big Ten, the University of Iowa is one of several schools to enact a tuition freeze for the upcoming academic year. Of the 12 universities in the conference, eight have some sort of hold on tuition for 2013-14, several even opting for a two-year freeze.

Freezing tuition comes down to several factors, those of which include a university’s interest and adequate state appropriations.

TUITION FREEZE IN IOWA

In her most recent interview with The Daily Iowan, UI President Sally Mason recognized tuition freezes as a trend not only in the conference but also nationwide.

“It’s good for students. Period. Doesn’t matter where, but it’s good for students,” she said earlier this month. “I think that everyone understands that you can’t keep growing, and growing, and growing and spending, and spending, and spending. You have to be very focused in terms of how you use your resources.”

While the UI is now seeing its first tuition freeze since 1981, Mason said her focus is the future, noting she’s looking forward to meeting with legislators and the regents to discuss extending the duration of the freeze. As it stands, tuition is frozen only through the 2013-14 year.

“I think we’re on the right course for tuition, sending a good message to students and their families that we’re going to hold the line on tuition,” she said. “… We hope that we can argue once again, effectively, perhaps with the Board of Regents, starting there, and then with legislators, on the need to continue to hold the line on tuition.”

After first being proposed at their September meeting, the regents approved a tuition freeze on Dec. 5, 2012, for undergraduate resident students studying at the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa.

The freeze became official in June after state legislators approved a 2.6 percent increase in the regent universities’ general-operating appropriations.

Mason said she believed having the freeze extended would be likely if the state were willing to provide another inflationary increase next year.

“I’m going to obviously advocate with our Board of Regents that we should try this again, if we can,” she said about the freeze. “Let’s see if we can do it again and keep doing it.”

The current freeze keeps tuition levels for the 2013-14 academic year consistent with those seen during the 2012-13 year. Base tuition at the UI is $6,678, and $8,061 with mandatory fees included.

Those excluded from the freeze — nonresident undergraduates and all graduate and professional students — will see a 2.6 percent increase in base tuition. Nonresident undergraduates will pay $26,931 in tuition and fees.

BIG TEN FREEZES

While legislators and officials in Iowa hammered out the details of a tuition freeze for much of the last school year, many university administrators and state lawmakers throughout the Big Ten were having very similar discussions.

Eight Big Ten universities have some sort of tuition freeze in place for its students, with at least six of those schools keeping costs consistent with the previous academic year.

Like the UI, resident undergraduates at the Ohio State University, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and University of Nebraska will see no rise in tuition this school year.

Two universities enacted a freeze for all undergraduates, resident and nonresident — Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin.

The University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign and Indiana University both offer tuition discounts specific to their university.

At Illinois, the tuition charged each resident student as a freshman remains at a fixed rate for all four years. The rate of tuition therefore increases with each incoming class. This policy, implemented in the 2004-05 academic year, applies to all of Illinois’ nine public universities in accordance with the Truth in Tuition law.

Indiana is implementing a pilot program this fall called Finish in Four On-Time Completion Award. While it’s not uncommon for universities to offer different rates for juniors and seniors than freshmen and sophomores, the program freezes tuition and fees for upperclassmen who are on track to graduate in four years.

So how exactly are these tuition freezes made possible?

The simple answer: state appropriations.

Across the country, many legislatures this year approved budgets with increased spending on higher education, providing state universities the necessary funding to freeze tuition.

As an example, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this month that public colleges in Massachusetts will see a 16 percent increase in state appropriations. More than $158 million of Massachusetts’ $1.1 billion higher education budget will fund tuition and fees for the next two years at all the state’s public two- and four-year colleges.

Washington state lawmakers approved a 12 percent increase in state support for education, and California lawmakers increased spending by 5 percent.

The Iowa Legislature, for comparison, approved a 2.6 increase in state appropriations.

This increase comes after several years of “severe” cuts to higher education. According to regent reports, Iowa public universities in fiscal 2010 received the 45th lowest appropriations in the nation.

TUITION INCREASES FOR SOME

While most Big Ten students will see a tuition freeze this year, some schools in the conference are holding off — and they have their reasons.

Of the Big Ten schools with no hold on tuition — save for Northwestern, a private institution — officials all pointed to a lack of support from the state in which the university is located.

Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University point to the state’s current economic condition as the primary reason for a freeze not being feasible.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan administrators this year are touting a small increase in tuition for all students. According to The Michigan Daily, the Michigan Board of Regents approved the lowest tuition increase in 29 years. Tuition increased 1.1 for residents and 3.2 percent for nonresidents.

The narrative is a little different at Michigan State — officials there don’t want to freeze tuition.
They believe a tuition freeze would equate to a “loss in quality” for the students, the state, and other stakeholders.

statement from Michigan State’s budget office reads, “Freezing tuition rates would reduce funds available to MSU even as costs increase, and this would have a detrimental effect on quality. … Ultimately, a loss in quality would weaken Michigan’s ability to compete in today’s knowledge economy.”

For Penn State, costs continue to rise, and one university official said it also comes down to state appropriations.

“When one goes down, the other is impacted,” said Lisa Powers, the director of Penn State’s public-information department.

Penn State has not seen a tuition freeze since 1967. Powers said costs are always on the rise, and she believes Penn State does not receive adequate funding from the state Legislature. She also said the university received the same amount of funding for 2013-14 as it did in 1996. There were 18,000 fewer students at the time.

WHAT ABOUT GRADUATE STUDENTS?

With much of the tuition discussion revolving around undergraduates, one may be left wondering about the affordability of a post-undergraduate education.

The costs of a graduate or professional education vary greatly from that of an undergraduate.

As the regents discussed a tuition freeze for undergraduates in Iowa, Michael Appel, former president of the UI Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, previously told the DI that that he believed the focus had primarily been on undergraduate students.

“I think it shows that there is a general trend in this state and that the focus is on undergraduate education, which isn’t a bad thing,” he said in March. “But our graduate and professional students do provide vital impact and resources to our state. That’s why this needs to be more of a conversation about how to support graduate and professional education.”

Former Regent President Craig Lang told UI faculty senators in March that he was interested in helping graduate student tuition.

Several Big Ten schools, including Nebraska and Wisconsin, have broadened their tuition freezes to include graduate students.

Following the Nebraska Legislature’s approval of a 4 percent increase in state appropriations, the Nebraska Board of Regents was able to enact a tuition freeze for all resident students at the University of Nebraska. Tuition for all resident students — undergraduate, graduate, and professional — will be frozen for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents took things a step further, approving a two-year tuition freeze for all resident and nonresident students, undergraduate and graduate.

When asked, Mason said the question of exploring the option for graduate and professional students at the UI was a difficult one.

“Graduate programs are so different,” she said. “We’ll continue to look at our graduate programs, and the pricings of those programs, and make sure we remain competitive, but I’m not sure that’s place to think about tuition freeze or things like that.”

Undergraduate programs often see a large number of students in each program, and Mason said freezing tuition for graduate programs that only see a few students in each discipline would prove difficult, because they cost more to operate.

Graduate and professional students at the UI — like nonresident undergraduates — will see a 2.6 percent increase in tuition. Resident and nonresident students in the UI Graduate College can expect to pay $9,523 to $26,107 in 2013-14, respectively. Costs vary across graduate and professional programs.

This school year, UI student leaders have plans to lobby for greater affordability and more consistency. The Executive Council has several platforms in place for this year, one of which includes asking the Board of Regents for consistency in the cost of student fees, as well as greater number of graduate assistantships.

Ben Gillig, the president of the Executive Council, said both pieces are important to the affordability of graduate and professional students’ education.

Gillig, like Mason, noted that a tuition freeze for graduate and professional students would be difficult, given the varying size and scope of individual programs.

This year, he said, he’d like to see the regents evaluate the role that graduate and professional students may play following graduation, and keeping tuition and fees affordable may encourage students to stay in Iowa after graduation.

“Affordability is absolutely a cornerstone, both on the campus level and with the state Legislature,” he said. “It’s important for people to understand that graduate and professional students have very different tuition levels … depending on what they’re getting their degree in. Taking the same approach you take with undergraduates doesn’t fit the same mold as graduate and professional students.”


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