Tuition issues continue in Iowa Legislature

Katelynn Mccollough

The Iowa Legislature continues to discuss the amount of state dollars that will reach universities and colleges throughout the state in the coming year.

Recent remarks made to the Des Moines Register by Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Board of Regents and Gary Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, have brought the higher education state appropriations issue into a battle between public and private.

Lang stated to the Des Moines Register that the money that had been provided to private colleges was not available to “our public universities, which the people of Iowa own.”

Steinke, former executive director of the Iowa Board of Regents, called Lang’s remarks “selfish.”

Last year, the Iowa Legislature gave $49 million to private colleges and universities through the Iowa Tuition Grant program.

“The program was designed … to try to equalize the tuition at a private college when compared to a regents institution because there was a huge growth of enrollment at that time and they were having trouble handling the enrollment without creating more facilities as regents institutions,” said Todd Brown, director of state administered programs for the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

Brown explained that the program has not changed much since its beginning in 1969.

Iowa Senator Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, vice chairman of the education appropriations committee, shared several ideas for why the private colleges may see the state funding as necessary.

“The rationale that the private colleges will give you, I think, is two-fold. On the one hand they would argue that the public colleges receive a fairly significant subsidy from the state,” Quirmbach said.

“They would argue that students should have at least some reasonable opportunity to choose a private college if that’s what they would prefer and the other argument they would make is that the private colleges … if they didn’t exist then the state universities would need to build a lot more dorms, a lot more classrooms.”

Quirmbach said, although he found “merit” in some of these arguments, he does not necessarily agree with all of them.

According to the Iowa College Aid website, the state gives 81.1 percent of state grant money to low-income college students attending private colleges. In comparison, 10.3 percent of state grant money goes toward need-based students at public universities and colleges.

The Iowa House of Representatives and Senate have been working on their proposals for state appropriations to higher education for the upcoming fiscal year.

The House has proposed a cut to higher education funding. The Senate is looking toward an increase.

“The Senate had a $34 million dollar increase — that’s $11 million dollars above the governor’s increase, but he’s also recommending a $23 million dollar increase,” Quirmbach said about what is happening with this years higher education state appropriations.

“The contrast between that and the House couldn’t be more dramatic. …They’re talking about a $31 million dollar cut. So we’re about $65 million dollars apart.”

To aid in Iowa State University’s expenses, as well as its peer universities, the Board of Regents has requested an additional $41 million be added to the previous year’s allocations from the state for higher education. Recurring appropriations near $449 million.

According to a Board of Regents report for Iowa State’s budget, the university received more than $164 million in state appropriations for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. That funding was 35 percent of the schools income.

Iowa State’s dependency on state appropriations to minimize expenses and aid in student fees is nothing new.

Iowa State’s history records show that the Iowa Legislature gave $25,000 to the college in 1900, the first state appropriations ever received. This was supposed to be an annual sum.

According to Iowa State’s yearly financial reports, by 1933 state appropriations for the university totaled $1.78 million, which made up 64 percent of the schools income for general fund expenses.

In 1960 the Iowa Legislature granted nearly $12 million to Iowa State, a total that made up for 35 percent of the schools income. By 1980 state appropriations for the university reached $88 million, or 37 percent of income to general fund expenses for that fiscal year.

Financial records show that the percentage of state funding for general fund expenses has been in the mid-30s for most of the past 50 years

According to an email from Sheila Koppin, regent communication officer of the Board of Regents, “We [the Board of Regents] have no additional comment at this time relative to tuition set-aside and the Iowa Tuition Grant.”

The Board of Regents will allow press to ask questions at an upcoming meeting on Thursday.

ISU President Steven Leath refused to comment at this time on tuition topics.