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Guest Opinion: Consider affordability for all students

BY GUEST OPINION | OCTOBER 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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The day after last week’s Oct. 22nd Rally Against Student Debt, a few members of the state Board of Regents came out in support of a continued tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates despite previous reports of the regents considering a “modest” increase for all students. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a joint statement supporting those members of the board, which at least ideologically joins state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, among others, in an increasingly bipartisan effort to make Iowa higher education affordable.

However, if the Board of Regents and state politicians are serious about student debt and the high cost of being a student in Iowa, then they need to consider the financial burden of all students attending Iowa’s Regent universities.

Despite in-state freezes, out-of-state undergraduate tuition has increased at UI by over 15 percent since the 2010-11 school year (and by over 250 percent since 2000-01!), with this current academic year costing out-of-state undergraduates over $27,000.

Additionally, graduate students at the University of Iowa pay around $1,000 a year in mandatory fees, which have gone up over 500 percent for all UI students since 2000-01. For graduate employees who hold teaching or research assistantships, exorbitant mandatory fees are a form of back-door tuition that forces TAs and RAs to pay to work, or in other words, to give a portion of their already-small salaries back to their university employers.

Once upon a time, revenue from student tuition and fees supplemented state financial support as opposed to being the primary source of financial support, as it is today. According to the Iowa Policy Project, in 2000, 67 percent of public university funds came from the state, and tuition and fees paid for another 26 percent of university operating costs. However, as of 2012, just 35 percent of public university funds come from the state while tuition and fees cover 60 percent of all operating costs. This reliance on tuition has resulted in the average tuition for Iowa students increasing by more than 75 percent since the 2000-01 academic school year, despite two years of recent in-state tuition freezes.

It’s pretty clear that our current student debt crisis, with Iowa students carrying the sixth largest average student debt burden in the nation, is the consequence of this flip in Iowa’s public higher education funding model.

So, with all of the sudden bipartisan concern over student debt, tuition, and fees, it seems like the perfect time for the Board of Regents to work with state legislators to reverse this trend of educational defunding. By increasing state appropriations, Iowa can continue to provide high-quality education for all of its students, whether undergrad or grad, in-state or out-of state, without burdening them with unmanageable debt.  

If the Board of Regents and state politicians on both sides of the aisle really care about student debt, they need to freeze tuition for all students, as well as reduce or eliminate mandatory fees for graduate employees, and commit to supporting public higher education as a social good. COGS, UI’s graduate employee union, looks forward to working with the Board of Regents to achieve these goals both at the state level and during negotiations over the upcoming graduate employee contract.

Melissa Zimdars
Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS)


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