Branstad supports second straight undergrad tuition freeze for Iowans; Regents to seek additional “efficiencies”

Gov. stresses Importance of teaching students to borrow modestly

Vanessa Miller
Published: January 14 2014 | 3:30 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:06 am in

The Iowa Board of Regents’ conditional vow to freeze resident undergraduate tuition for a second straight year is closer to becoming a reality after Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday recommended a funding increase for Iowa’s three public universities.

Branstad, in his 2015 budget plan made public Tuesday, proposed a 4 percent increase in general operating appropriations to the universities. If approved, that increase would support a second straight tuition freeze for resident undergraduates – who, for example, paid $6,678 to attend the University of Iowa this year and last year.

During his annual Condition of the State address, Branstad stressed the importance of keeping college affordable.

“Skyrocketing college costs have made reaching the Iowa Dream unattainable for too many,” he said. “Those who do pursue higher education are often strapped with massive amounts of student debt that they spend decades paying off.”

Branstad called on the Iowa Legislature to help end that cycle by approving the funding increase, holding down college costs and decreasing the debt incurred by many Iowa students and their families.

David Roederer, director of the state Department of Management, said the governor’s proposed budget includes $19 million to fully fund the tuition freeze at state universities for another year.

The Board of Regents on Tuesday collectively thanked Branstad for his 2015 budget recommendations, and its president, Bruce Rastetter, said the board is eager to work with the governor, the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate in the upcoming legislative session.

In a news release, Rastetter said a second consecutive tuition freeze – marking the first time that’s happened since 1975 – not only would benefit Iowa’s public universities and students, but the entire state.

“The governor’s budget supports many of the board’s and the universities’ top initiatives,” according to the board’s news release. “Most importantly, the board appreciates the governor’s recommendation of a 4 percent increase in the universities’ general operating appropriations.”

In response to the governor’s recommendations, Rastetter said the board is reaffirming its commitment to identify efficiencies at its public universities through an Efficiency Task Force and Performance-Based Revenue Model Task Force.

In his 2015 proposed budget, Branstad also recommended a $4 million addition to the University of Northern Iowa’s base operating budget, with another commitment of $4 million in 2016.

That recommendation, Rastetter said, demonstrates Branstad’s commitment to “restoring the financial integrity and maintaining the outstanding quality” of UNI.

And Branstad included funding for several “critical” capital improvement projects at the universities, including the University of Iowa’s new pharmacy building, the Schindler Education Center at UNI and the Biosciences Facilities at Iowa State University.

“The support for the tuition freeze, UNI budget restoration and the universities’ three critical capital projects … clearly indicate the governor’s commitment to public higher education in Iowa,” according to the news release.

The university presidents on Tuesday expressed gratitude to the governor for his budget recommendations supporting a second tuition freeze. UI President Sally Mason said in a statement that the “support for UI students is an important contributor to their success.”

She also thanked the governor for supporting $2 million for the pharmacy building replacement project, calling it a “critical need for a new building to support the continued success of the UI pharmacy program.”

ISU President Steven Leath said the $2 million for his schools’ Biosciences Faciliteis project is “central to Iowa State’s mission” and will support many initiatives that have a direct and positive effect on the local economy.

Of the support for another tuition freeze, Leath said it will allow ISU to “remain affordable, accessible and attractive to a growing number of Iowa undergraduates.”

During his speech, Branstad addressed other ways students can decrease their debt, mentioning the importance of teaching students to borrow only enough to pay their bills. He highlighted a UNI program requiring all students receiving loans to participate in financial literacy programs.

“And it is working,” the governor said. “Last year, student debt at the University of Northern Iowa decreased by 8 percent.”

Looking beyond the public universities, Branstad on Tuesday highlighted his support for a variety of educational levels and types, saying he provided “historic financial support for our community colleges” last year, increased the Iowa Tuition Grant for students attending private colleges, backed “high achievers” entering the teaching profession, and offered rural health care.

In his proposed budget, Branstad said, he triples funding for apprenticeship programs that “strengthen our middle class, our businesses and our economy.”

“What if more students could earn while they learn?” he said. “Apprenticeships allow just that opportunity by providing focused and streamlined training.”

In hopes of making Iowa an educational destination for military veterans, Branstad said he plans to ask the Iowa Board of Education and the Board of Regents to pass new rules giving service members, their spouses and their dependents automatic in-state tuition to Iowa’s community colleges.

He also said he’ll convene a group of stakeholders from the regents, community colleges and private colleges to draft consistent policies on providing veterans academic credit for their military training and experience.

“Our veterans have risked their lives defending our freedom,” he said. “To show our gratitude, let’s make Iowa the leader in respect, support and opportunity for veterans.”

Joelle Brown, government relations liaison for UI Student Government, was among several dozen students invited to the Condition of the State address. Branstad’s commitment to support a second straight tuition freeze was a “welcome announcement,” she said.

And, as the legislative session gets underway, Brown said she and her peers will continue to press legislators for their support – the UISG wrote more than 450 thank-you notes last semester for the first tuition freeze.

“I think students add a really unique voice,” she said, “because we are not just advocates. We are the investment.”

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