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Editorial: Tuition freeze not a solution

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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For the first time in more than three decades, tuition will not rise at the University of Iowa for the 2013-14 academic year for undergraduates paying the in-state rate.

For this group, base tuition for this year will remain at $6,678 — $8,061 with mandatory fees included. Out-of-state students and graduate students will see a tuition increase of 2.6 percent.

In Iowa and across the Big Ten, schools and legislatures are working to ease the effects of rising higher-education costs by installing tuitions freezes. Eight of the 12 Big Ten schools have some type of tuition freeze on the books for the coming academic year.

While these tuition freezes are a good thing — they’ll certainly save a large group of students some money — they do not adequately address the systemic concerns that have led college tuition and fees to rise four times faster than inflation over the last 30 or so years.

In other words, a short-term tuition freeze is little more than a bony finger in a very porous dam.
Consider the rate at which college costs have been rising in recent years.

According to data from the College Board, average in-state tuition and fees at public four-year universities in the United States rose by approximately 66 percent between 2002 and 2012 from $5,213 to $8,655 per year.

Of course, rising prices are not arbitrarily decided; they are reflective of deeper systemic problems within higher-education funding across the country. Basically, public funding for higher education has fallen substantially even as enrollment has grown. Universities have been forced to make up the difference primarily by raising their prices.

According to an analysis from economists at the New York Federal Reserve, state and local funding for public universities fell dramatically between 2000 and 2011. In 2000, 70.7 percent of the funding for America’s public colleges and universities came from state or local governments. In 2011, that was down to 57.1 percent.

During the same period, the number of students enrolled in public colleges and universities rose from 8.6 million to 11.8 million.

In Iowa, the decrease in public funding has been particularly stark. In fiscal 2001, around 64 percent of the regent-university funding came from government appropriations and 31 percent came from tuition. In fiscal 2012, 36 percent of that funding came from government appropriations and 59 percent came from tuition.

Tuition freezes on their own do little to fix these problems and could even create further revenue shortfalls if universities are not able to raise tuition to meet their needs. In Iowa, the one-year tuition freeze was made possible by a 2.6 percent increase in the fiscal 2014 operating budget of the state Board of Regents, which will offset the lost tuition revenue.

There is little reason to expect, at this point, that the tuition freeze will be more than a short-term patch. UI President Sally Mason said she would like to continue the tuition freeze beyond the 2013-14 academic year, but such a plan would be contingent on whether the Iowa Legislature will be willing to increase funding for the state’s regent schools again.

Iowa’s tuition freeze is also severely limited in its scope — it provides no relief for out-of-state students and graduate students, who together make up about 60 percent of the students at the UI.

A true long-term solution for higher-education funding in Iowa and elsewhere must stabilize public funding for higher education and encourage efficiency at universities to slow the growth of college tuition.


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