Regents ‘disappointed’ with legislature funding; tuition increases likely

Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter

Alex Hanson

The Iowa Board of Regents said Thursday that they will start immediately discussing a tuition hike at Iowa’s public universities now that state lawmakers are likely to allocate well under the requested funding increase.

The Regents requested over a $20 million increase for all three schools, including  $8.2 million for Iowa State, $7.65 million for Northern Iowa and $4.5 million for Iowa. Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget recommended just under $8 million total.

Regent university presidents have said the requested increases are needed to avoid a tuition hike and to keep up with the growing operating costs.

State lawmakers now look likely to approve an increase well below the $20 million and even below Branstad’s $8 million.

The legislature’s Education Appropriation Subcommittee have decided to give an additional $2.218 million for Iowa State, $2.781 million for Northern Iowa  and $1.3 million for Iowa — just under $6.3 million.

Lawmakers will also give several million to community colleges in the state.

The board has already approved a tuition freeze at ISU and UNI for this fall, while it will go up at Iowa. ISU and UNI’s tuition went up during the spring 2016 semester. Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said talks will begin immediately to possibly increase tuition for the coming fall.

“Making sure Iowa students and families can afford to attend Iowa’s public universities needs to be more of a priority for the legislature,” Rastetter said. “Investing now protects Iowa’s future.”

Iowa State President Steven Leath provided a statement to the Daily on Thursday afternoon:

“As a result of the funding level voted today by the legislature’s education appropriations subcommittee, we will be proposing tuition increases to take effect during the 2016-17 academic year,” Leath said. “We are examining all areas of tuition: undergraduate, graduate, resident and nonresident as well as the possibility of differential tuition levels for our more expensive programs.”

Leath said Iowa State does not have a specific amount of increase, but within 30 days, they will submit a recommendation to the Board of Regents.

“We are sensitive to the needs of students and families who will be affected by a tuition increase, and we have not decided whether to recommend the increases be effective for the fall semester or spring semester,” Leath said.

A spokesperson for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said the governor understands it is a tight budget year and adding the governor would have liked his recommended $8 million increase to go through.

“Gov. Branstad is pleased to see that both sides of the aisle were able to reach a consensus on a number that they believe the state can afford based on the tight revenue situation,” said Ben Hammes, Branstad’s spokesperson.

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chair of Senate Education Committee and a member of the Education Appropriation Subcommittee, said he spoke up for a larger increase.

Quirmbach, who is also a professor of economics at Iowa State, said university presidents have been communicating with lawmakers to make it clear that a small appropriation means either a tuition hike or not being able to hire more faculty to accommodate a growing student population.

“They’re doing their very best to be efficient and hold down costs,” Quirmbach said. “If [President Leath] doesn’t have the money to hire faculty, then that compromises the quality of education, and [a tuition increase] might be the only way to find additional funds.”

While Leath said he appreciates the increase, maintaining “quality” is a priority.

In order to maintain quality programs, we need to increase our resources,” Leath said. “At the same time, we will continue to look for ways to operate as efficiently as possible.”

The Regents is set to meet next week for their April meeting in Council Bluffs, although no discussions on tuition were on the agenda. They will meet again in June at Iowa State.