CEDAR RAPIDS — Students attending Iowa’s public universities likely will see tuition increases, but they won’t be the annualized 7 percent over five years that two of the institutions are seeking, according to the Iowa regent who chaired a tuition task force over the summer.
Larry McKibben of Marshalltown, a former state senator, told those at The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas conference that Iowa’s public universities need a combination of higher tuition, increased state funding and savings from efficiencies to maintain quality and top faculty at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
“Will it be 7 percent? The answer is no,” McKibben said. “We certainly don’t want that to happen, and we don’t want to ask for that. It’s way too soon to say what it will be.”
The regents, a nine-member volunteer board, must first approve its request for state funding for the next budget year — which it will tackle in a special meeting next week — before considering tuition rates for the fall of 2018. The board is scheduled to consider tuition rates in October, with a final vote in December.
The Board of Regents Office last week released its proposed appropriations request, which includes a $12 million increase that would be earmarked for resident undergraduate student financial aid to cushion a tuition increase.
The action comes after the GOP-run Legislature during the last legislative session cut the institutions’ base appropriations by more than $30 million.
Iowa and Iowa State leaders have requested a 7 percent annual increase for resident undergraduates, and Northern Iowa has suggested a 5 percent annualized increase, which some argue would make more financial aid imperative for the schools to accomplish their missions of being accessible and diverse.
At Friday’s conference, Iowa student body president Jacob Simpson said he hoped any boost in tuition could be held in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent.
After the meeting, McKibben said he would have preferred the student leader had set his sights a little lower, such as in the 2 percent to 4 percent range, but higher tuition at some levels appears inevitable.
“We can’t get the numbers together and continue the high level of education and faculty and staff that they want if we don’t,” McKibben said. “There is going to be some increase in tuition. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. I would hope 5 (percent) is on the high end.”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who serves on legislative education committees, said Friday the cuts in state aid to Iowa’s three regent universities have effectively been a “tuition tax increase” on Iowa students and their parents.
“For the sake of Iowa’s future, we have to keep our state universities affordable to all without compromising the quality of their education. That will take money,” said Quirmbach, who pointed to nearly $332 million in tax credits the state divvies up to attract businesses and high-quality jobs as a possible source of future funding for higher education.
Tom Mortenson, a Pell researcher who has studied trends in funding for higher education, said Iowa’s support for its public colleges is about the same as it was decades ago and is on a downward arc. He said higher education is losing the competition for taxpayer dollars to health care, corrections and unfunded pensions.
“Iowa has become a national leader in the defunding of higher education,” said Mortensen, noting Iowa is tied with four other states for the worst financial support for colleges. He said the shift began in 2000 when then-Gov. Tom Vilsack took money from higher education to boost funding for K-12 teachers’ salaries.
“We’re shifting the cost of higher education from taxpayers back onto students,” he said. “And from my perspective as someone who studies higher educational opportunity and especially college affordability for students from low-income family backgrounds, this is a disastrous set of choices.”