Several state legislators said Thursday that recent budget cuts at the University of Northern Iowa were tough decisions that had to be made for the future of the university, but they wondered how the school would weather a proposed tuition freeze next year.
Several members of the Legislative Fiscal Committee praised outgoing UNI President Ben Allen for his leadership and willingness to make tough decisions in cutting the budget at the university. They also questioned how a planned tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students next year at UNI, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University would impact UNI specifically, given its enrollment loss this year and heavier reliance on in-state students.
Allen said to offset the loss of tuition dollars if there is a freeze, officials will work hard to boost enrollment and to find more internal efficiencies, such as teaching more students in classes that are suitable for larger class sizes.
The presidents of the UI, ISU and UNI and leaders of the state Board of Regents detailed the 2013-14 state funding requests to the Legislative Fiscal Committee during the meeting in Ames. Regents leaders have said they plan to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition next year, if the state provides a 2.6 percent increase to general education funding.
The plan also calls for an extra $4 million in state funding for UNI to help meet budget challenges there. UNI also got that extra $4 million for the current year, and officials say the university would need it for three consecutive years.
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, a member of the fiscal committee, said that extra support for UNI is critical.
"We're not out of this yet, and I want people to keep that in mind," he said.
Committee members seemed generally supportive of the idea of a tuition freeze tied to a certain level of state funding support.
The regents plan to request $39.5 million in state funding for scholarships for resident undergraduates, to replace the tuition set-aside program, also was presented to the legislators. The tuition set-aside program drew criticism last year from some legislators and parents, and the regents are working on a plan to phase the program out. Regents have said they would cut tuition by the the amount of state funding provided under the plan.
Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale and co-chairman of the fiscal committee, commended the board and university presidents for being responsive to the concerns about tuition set-aside."They have done exactly what they said they would do," Raecker said. "I think your presentation does an excellent job for making a case for the aid need."