Despite otherwise low expectations for the 2014 session that starts Monday, Iowa legislative leaders and Gov. Terry Branstad seem upbeat about the possibility of freezing university tuition for the second year in a row – the first time that’s happened since 1975.
“I’m intrigued by the idea of a tuition freeze,” Branstad told Statehouse reporters Wednesday. “One of the issues that is on our agenda is trying to reduce student debt.”
It’s also on the agendas of both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders.
“We would like to say once again that we froze tuition,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said.
For the first time in more than 30 years, tuition did not increase in the fall of 2013 for Iowa undergraduate students attending the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, and Iowa State University in Ames. Meanwhile, average tuition and fees at Iowa community college increased by 2.8 percent.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, also has called for a tuition freeze as part of Democrats’ efforts to help Iowa families. Asking the Board of Regents to control costs and lawmakers investing more state resources is a better approach than asking university students and their families to borrow more money, he said.
Paulsen echoed that sentiment.
“We want to help (the universities) be successful because we think that helps Iowa families be successful,” he said.
Tuition costs skyrocketed during the Great Recession while the state’s share of the cost of a regents’ university education fell by 25 percent, according to Senate Democrats.
The regents told policymakers that a 4 percent increase in state funding to support operations would enable them to freeze tuition for resident students for the 2014-15 school year. Their request for a $44.2 million increase in operations was accompanied by an $89 million request to address deferred maintenance and fire and environmental safety deficiencies at the three campuses along with providing planning money for capital projects at the three campuses.
At the same time, Paulsen said, Republicans “want to make sure those taxpayer dollars that we are committing and we are required to be good stewards of are being used correctly.”
“Some of the things that we see going on with the regents right now, we’re pretty excited about,” he said, referring to the board’s attempts to find efficiencies.
The current board, Paulsen added, seems “much more student-focused than maybe what we saw out of some of the previous ones.”
If lawmakers fulfill the regents’ budget request, tuition rates for resident undergraduates will stay at $6,678 at UI and at $6,648 for both ISU and UNI students.