Student tuition and fee distribution: Where does your money go?


Graphic: Azwan Azhar/ Iowa State Daily

These are the allocation of funds for the 2013-14 general student mandatory fee. 

Danielle Ferguson

Students know that attending a university comes with a pretty hefty price. However, where that money actually goes is not always known.

Both tuition and mandatory fees must be approved by the Board of Regents.

David Biedenbach, assistant vice president of the Board of Regents, said the proposal is submitted early enough, usually in the fall, so that if the state budget changes for some reason, the university would have time to change its proposal if necessary.

The state appropriation request that was discussed, but not voted on, at the September meeting for the Board of Regents, has the possibility to freeze tuition for a second year.

Once voted on by the board, the university can begin to look at how the tuition money will be distributed to colleges.

Mandatory fees are calculated into students’ U-bills. Fees for student activities, student services and buildings must be approved by the Board of Regents.

“We have a system that attributes the tuition revenue to the college where the students are either enrolled or taking their classes,” said Ellen Rasmussen, the associate vice president of the senior vice president and provost. “The parameters we use to attribute tuition are student enrollment and student credit hours.”

For example, an undergraduate engineering student’s tuition will be partly attributed to the College of Engineering, but another portion will also be distributed to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences because of other classes being taken from that college.

Biedenbach said the university has a formulaic method of distribution to the colleges.

“Twenty-five percent goes to the college based on enrollment, and 75 percent goes to where the courses are offered for undergraduate tuition,” Biedenbach said.

Graduate student tuition, however, goes 100 percent into the college where their program is located. For example, the tuition for a graduate student in mathematics will go entirely to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Once distributed to the colleges, tuition money is out of university-level hands and passed along to deans, associate deans and fiscal officers.

Arne Hallam, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said about 80 percent of the money the college operates on comes from tuition. Each college, however, is not the same. Some colleges may receive more money from the state.

“Each year in about March or April, the university starts to forecast … how many students for the fall and spring,” Hallam said. “Based on majors those students are likely to have, classes they’re likely to have, [the university] says here is how much money they think we’re going to have next year.”

That amount gets refined until May, when the projected budget is then given, so the colleges can start planning around that budget. The amount can increase or decrease depending on the actual number of students enrolled in a college or taking classes from a college.

Hallam said about 70 to 80 percent of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences budget is dedicated toward the salaries of faculty, professional and scientific staff, computer technicians, lab scientists, etc.

“There’s no formulaic distribution of tuition dollars to departments [within colleges] like there is to colleges,” Hallam said. “We literally sit down and look … at the number of students.”

The colleges also receive money from the state and external grants for research. 

Other allocations for colleges may be into career services, events at the Memorial Union or other teaching resources.

Rate of tuition does not affect the rate of student fees, Beidenbach said. Every student pays mandatory fees, which goes directly to their designated location. 

These include activities and services such as CyRide, recreation and building. Government of Student Body receives activities fee to then allocate the clubs and organizations on campus.

Dan Rediske, finance director for GSB, said that GSB has regular allocations process in the spring, where GSB works with student organizations and other offices they fund.

Student fee dollars are also allocated to certain organization’s projects, the United Way partnership, Student Debt Counseling and Legal Services and a cushion for unexpected events.