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Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 20, 2018

ISU pitches hefty tuition as ‘breaking point’ nears

And even that’s based on meeting some challenging assumptions
Aug 10, 2017

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette


AMES — With Iowa’s budget crunch continuing, Iowa State University proposed Wednesday raising its basic tuition rate 7 percent a year — and also increasing rate differentiation in its most costly degree programs — through 2022.

Interim ISU President Ben Allen — the second of Iowa’s three public university presidents to present tuition models this month to a Board of Regents task force — said the increases are based on some assumptions that in themselves are challenging:

l The increases rely on no change in state appropriations, unlike in the 2017 and current 2018 budget year, when lawmakers clawed back funds that already had been allocated.

l ISU’s enrollment should be flat — unlike in recent years when interest skyrocketed and broke records.

l Higher education’s inflation rate of 2.41 percent — the average for the last five years — would stay the same for ISU, plus the campus would realize additional cost efficiencies.

If all that plays out, Allen said, ISU’s plan to raise the basic rate 7 percent per year would take the annual cost of in-state undergraduate tuition from $7,456 this fall to $10,457 in 2022.

And a proposed 4 percent per year increase for non-resident undergrads would take tuition for those students from $21,292 this year to $25,905 in 2022.

He noted further rate adjustments for students in costlier programs like engineering and business, some of which now have differential rates.

“In engineering, for example, to get up to where University of Iowa is, I think it’s about $300 more,” Allen said. “In business, to get up where the University of Iowa is, the differential would have to go up about $800. But in some of the other areas that do not have differentials now, but they will be having, some of those over a couple years go up over $1,000 — quite sizable.”

On Monday, University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook pitched more modest tuition increases of an annualized 2.5 percent — provided there is enough state appropriation support for the campus.

This Monday, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld is scheduled to deliver his proposal. He has been outspoken in his desire to raise rates to the median of the UI’s peers — amounting to thousands of more for some.

Still, the regents must approve any tuition rate changes every year, making these five-year tuition proposals just that — proposals.

But regent leadership has indicated a willingness to give the campuses more control over their own tuition needs.

Regents charged the universities with coming up with five-year tuition models after two years of last-minute rate hikes created consternation among students and families trying to plan.

Those last-minute increases came after state appropriations fell short of funding requests and after legislators in their last session actually took back money already committed amid falling state budget forecasts.

Lawmakers invited last month to participate in a discussion with the task force failed to commit, resulting in that meeting’s cancellation.

But several legislators or their surrogates spoke Wednesday.

“I don’t want you to give up on the legislative and state support,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames. “I believe there is a way for us to do this. I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that young Iowans have access to an affordable education, and that is my goal.”

A report from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency shows the state’s 2017 budget — which fell short of projections, requiring $118 million in cuts and transfers and $131 million in IOUs — could still this year see an additional $104 million shortfall.

Should more cuts hit, Allen said his campus would consider seeking more tuition hikes.

“But I think it’s a tougher decision to increase this,” he said. “It’s an easier decision to go down if the state gives us more money.”

Former ISU junior Caleb Vanfossen, 23, said he’s feeling the pain. He wasn’t able to register for classes in what would have been his senior year after losing tuition assistance and facing higher costs.

“I can’t live and go to college at the same time,” he told the panel.

In making a case for higher rates, Allen pointed to strategic priorities. To retain faculty and staff, the university must provide “reasonable” pay increases. Secondly, the university must hire a net 330 faculty by 2022 to maintain target student-faculty ratios.

Over the next five years, ISU must add 900,000 square feet of building capacity to meet faculty needs. And, he said, ISU has to up its need-based financial aid.

He said the university already is seeing indicators “our high quality may be at risk.”

The College of Business has lost two “strong young faculty” due to salary issues, Allen said. The College of Engineering has lost 26 midcareer faculty in three years. ISU student counseling has lost three counselors due to pay gaps between $30,000 and $40,000.

On the facilities side, 10 engineering labs run 12 hours a day and the business college holds classes until 10 p.m. four days a week.

“I think we’re reaching a breaking point,” Allen said. “We must do something about this, or we are going to lose our best people.”

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