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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Regents to Discuss Tuition Hike, Surcharge

Costs of education shifting from state to students

October 23, 2009
By B.A. Morelli - Iowa City Press-Citizen

Gavin Gardner-Marlow, 22, works full time in order to attend the University of Iowa part time.

His budget is tight as it is, the UI junior said, and he is bracing for a tuition increase next year.

"Anything is going to be a struggle. I am struggling the way it is," Gardner-Marlow, of Boone, said Monday as he walked across the UI Pentacrest to class.

The Iowa state Board of Regents also will discuss a possible spring tuition surcharge of $100, said board member Bob Downer of Iowa City.

The regents must decide how much of a steep budget cut to pass on to students and their families and how much more students can handle. In Iowa, costs of public higher education have increasingly shifted from the state to students, and it is expected to continue.

Board members will begin discussing next year's tuition and a possible surcharge at a board meeting Thursday in Cedar Falls, but they'll likely tip their hand when the meeting docket is released today. Tuition plans won't be finalized until December.

The regents are on the fence about the surcharge, which also will be discussed on Thursday. It was proposed in response to a mid-year budget cut. Regents Craig Lang, Ruth Harkin and Greta Johnson said they oppose the surcharge. Two others, including Downer and Rose Vasquez, said they likely would support it if called to a vote. Others, including regents' President David Miles, Bonnie Campbell and Michael Gartner, say they have not decided. Regent Jack Evans did not return a phone call.

The regent system, which includes UI, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, is coping with a $163 million state cut, or 23 percent, since the beginning of fiscal 2009.

Some states with budget woes are eyeing double-digit tuition increases: 32 percent in California, 28 percent in Washington and 15 percent in Florida. In Iowa, a 21.5 percent tuition increase would fill the budget gap, Miles said last week, but he wouldn't support such a spike.

"To get up into double-digit increases would not be taking into consideration students and their families," Miles said. "One concern I have is to not shift tuition abruptly upwards. Even if we have to do increases, we try to do it as modestly as we can and in an orderly fashion."

The regents increased tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates 19.4 percent in 2002 and 20.3 percent in 2003 after state cuts of $82 million and $46 million, respectively.

In 2004, regents introduced a policy to match base tuition increases to the median inflation rate, as set by the Higher Education Price Index.

In the last five years, regents increased tuition between 3.2 percent and 5.2 percent, or about $200 to $300 a year. Last year's 4.2 percent in-state hike for undergraduates was below the 6.5 percent national average for public universities. However, budget cuts are likely to push tuition rates higher than the 2.7 percent median inflation rate, Miles said.

Despite the increases, Miles said Iowa's public universities remain a good deal.

UNI, at $6,636 for in-state tuition and fees this year, is priced in the middle of its peers, and UI and ISU, at $6,824 and $6,650, respectively, could increase tuition more than $1,100 before reaching the median range among universities regents view as peers, Miles said.

The Midwestern Higher Education Compact data seems to challenge that. It reports Iowa's public universities rank low in affordability for Iowans. According to the report, 33 percent of the median Iowa family's income is needed to pay for a four-year public education after financial aid as opposed to 28 percent nationally, according to the report.

The compact also reports that Iowa support for higher education costs declined 27 percent per student, or from about $8,000 to about $5,750, between 1997 and 2007, compared to a 5 percent national decline.

"I think what you are seeing is a shift, not only in Iowa, but regionally and nationally, a greater share of tuition and fee cost is being borne by individuals rather than by the state," compact president Larry Isaak said. "I think the risk is for those people who traditionally have been less able to afford a higher education."

For the first time in Iowa's history, tuition revenue tops state appropriations in funding its public universities. Tuition accounts for 53 percent of the regents general education fund in fiscal 2010, which began July 1, compared to 41 percent in appropriations, according to regents data. By contrast, in fiscal 2001, state appropriations accounted for 64 percent of the budget compared to 31 percent covered by tuition.

Lang said the Legislature has failed its citizens by cutting education funding. State leaders and families need to ask themselves where education ranks in their priorities, Lang said.

"Education should always come up as a priority," Lang said.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who is state appropriations chairman, disagrees, noting the 2007 Legislature gave the regents its largest appropriation in history, but the recent financial crisis has been tough across the board.

"This bothers me. We have been putting more resources into higher education since (Democrats) took control," Dvorsky said. "That's been our priority for the last few years."

Lang proposed a 5 percent or 6 percent tuition increase for next year on the condition that the money clearly improves the quality of education.

Downer said he initially felt that increase was too high, but in light of the 10 percent across-the-board state budget cut announced earlier this month, he now supports Lang's range.

"We are a ways away from an amount that says we (as parents) can't afford to send my kids there anymore," Lang said.

Susan Bates, of Arlington Heights, Ill., sends her 19-year-old twins to UI, following in the footsteps of her, her husband and their oldest child. Bates wants her children to continue, but with the total estimated cost of attending at $35,000 for non-residents, talk of more tuition increases has Bates wondering how much longer they can afford it.

"We want to stay there, and they want to stay there, but it is getting harder to stay there," Bates said. "At some point, you get to the point where you have to say uncle."

The regents should not turn to families to compensate for budget cuts, she said. Bates said she would support a 1 percent to 3 percent tuition increase. That is in line with annual raises some people get, she said.

Students are somewhat understanding of cost increases but question paying more and getting less.

"I had to pay more this year, and our class sizes doubled," said Brittni Stille, 20, a UI junior from Decorah.

Her friend, Laura Reali, 19, a UI sophomore from Rockford, Ill., added, "There are a lot of classes I want to take, but they aren't offering (them) anymore."

"I feel like at some point, it gets to be taking too much from us. At some point, it is our responsibility, but it's also the school's responsibility," Reali said.

Des Moines Register reporter Gunnar Olson contributed to this report.