Iowa regents, university leaders push efficiencies, tuition freeze

Universities continue to seek efficiencies for their part

James Q. Lynch
Published: February 13 2014 | 5:38 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:37 am in
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Leaders of Iowa’s three regents’ universities told lawmakers their continued affordability depends largely on continued state support, specifically a 4 percent increase in general fund appropriations.

Their highest priority, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter told members of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday is maintaining the base funding of $479.3 million, $10 million for replacing one-time fiscal stabilization funds at the University of Northern Iowa with recurring funds and the 4 percent increase of $19.6 million to support student affordability.

That 4 percent increase, which the universities received this year, will allow a tuition freeze – the first time in more than 35 years that’s happened two years in a row.

That doesn’t go unnoticed, Iowa State University President Steven Leath said.

“We hear from alums and current students about this issue more than anything,” he said.

For their part, Rastetter, Leath, UNI President William Ruud and University of Iowa Vice President Barry Butler said they will continue to seek money-saving efficiencies.

“We’re not just asking for more taxpayer money,” Butler said. “We’re looking internally.”

UI, he said, has instituted several administrative efficiencies and terminated 25 to 30 programs not attracting students and “not central to our mission.”

Questioned about affordability and student debt, the university administrators said they offer more counseling so students “know their options” before they take on more debt, Ruud said.

ISU tuition statements include a student’s debt and how long it will take to repay, Leath said. Average debt at the Ames school has not changed, but 10 percent fewer students have debt, he added.

UI is helping students finish in four years or less, Butler said. Shortening pursuit of a degree by one semester “means you’re out making money and not borrowing,” he said.

Rep. Daniel Lundby, D-Marion, said support for a tuition freeze is strong now, but wondered what would happen next year “when we’re not up for re-election and not campaigning on a tuition freeze?”

UI and ISU rely on outside dollars – fundraising campaigns as well as research grants. State funds often are used to leverage private fundraising, Leath said.

The regents, Rastetter said, encourage the universities to be more efficient so they are not always asking for larger appropriations and higher tuition.

“We truly view that as a partnership,” he said, “so when we come to you we can make the argument that it makes sense that we ask for more.”

FYI:

• The regents’ budget is $4.9 billion with 14.6 percent funded by state dollars

• More than 76,000 students will be educated at regents institutions this year

• 16,120 degrees were awarded in fiscal 2012

• $793 million were secured in sponsored research and grants last year

• Regents institutions employ more than 47,000 Iowans

• The estimated replacement value of regents institutions is $15.8 billion

• State appropriations for general education funding has fallen from 77.4 percent in fiscal 1981 to 36 percent this year

• Tuition has climbed from 20.8 percent in fiscal 1981 to 60.1 percent this year

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