By Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
There is no question that students at Iowa’s regent universities deserve a significant break from escalating tuition.
It’s been a tough decade-plus for them.
Dwindling state appropriations have driven large tuition increases. That, in turn, has led many to seek more private loans, resulting in high debt loads.
There comes a point where you are simply pricing some people out of an opportunity.
The Iowa Board of Regents is now proposing a tuition freeze next year for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
The board recently approved a $644 million state appropriations request. That includes a total of $40.11 million in new funds. Regents President Craig Lang said if the governor and Legislature approve the request, he believes it would be possible for the universities to hold the line on tuition. The request has the backing of the university presidents.
Of the request, $483.25 million is earmarked for higher education operations. That includes a continuation of the current year’s appropriations plus $12.4 million of new funds. UNI’s share of that would be $2.11 million. In addition, another $4 million in special funding is being requested for UNI due to the high percentage of students paying in-state tuition compared with the two other universities.
Regent institutions have lost more than $150 million in state support since fiscal year 2009. In fact, the years since the turn of the 21st century have been a struggle and students have been paying for it.
Tuition rose by almost 60 percent between 2001 and 2005, punctuated by the years of 2002 and 2003 which saw extremely painful increases of 18.5 and 17.6 percent respectively.
Steadily, students — and their parents — began paying a higher percentage for their education at public institutions, while the state paid a smaller and smaller percentage. Former UNI President Robert Koob used to call it the “privatization of public education.”
This spring, the Legislature gave the universities an increase in funding — $551 million — a $23 million increase from the previous year.
“It’s very important, I think, now as the worst of the crisis is behind us and we’re starting to make progress, that the public universities need to be funded,” said regent David Miles. He called higher education the “key to future success in Iowa.”
Today, we are in a situation where young people, like never before, need to seek higher education in order to compete in the global job market. Watching them get priced out of that opportunity is painful.
Many of our state and national leaders thrived under the affordable umbrella of public higher education of years past. They need to keep searching for ways to keep these opportunities within reach of deserving Iowans and Americans.