IOWA CITY — The tuition task force report delivered to the Iowa Board of Regents Thursday didn’t make any recommendations or offer any hints on what it plans to propose for tuition at its October meeting.
But it was clear throughout the presentation the regents and university heads are trying to do their part to keep costs low and be transparent, all in the hope that it will help them make a case for additional state support next year and for the long term.
“We’re going to keep working with them,” Regents President Mike Richards said after Thursday’s meeting. "We’re trying to make the case of what will continue to help our universities to be here for the next generation and also try to work through the details in public of how we arrive at a decision of tuition."
He continued, “I think we’re thoughtfully putting our ideas and plans out here, and I hope to be talking to the legislators individually about what we think the priorities are.”
The tuition task force was established this spring to look at a long-term vision for the universities’ tuition rates, particularly after the regents had to come back for a second increase in two consecutive school years.
Richards, who was not on the task force, said he heard three themes emerge from the comments the board received while it was holding the meetings on each of the three university campuses this summer.
They were that students want lower tuition increases; students and parents want more predictability; and there’s support for differing tuition rates at the three public universities.
Thursday’s board meeting also took public comments for the second time, and both of the speakers drove home those points in their comments. They raised concerns about tuition and whether the board was doing enough to ensure higher education is affordable.
The board did not discuss its proposed rates for the next school year, which will have a first reading and discussion at the Oct. 18-19 regents meeting at University of Northern Iowa.
Regent Larry McKibben, who led the task force, said the group had time to compile a report that looked into some general national trends and summed up what they had heard from university heads and public comments. But it had not yet delved into enough data to say what figure it would put forth for next year.
“The question remains, ‘What do we do next?’” McKibben said. “It is clear that the Legislature and governor must make a long-term commitment to funding our public universities at a level that will maintain high-quality education, while not restricting student access.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds' spokeswoman Brenna Smith said budget proposals are not completed for the next session but higher education remains a priority. Smith said the governor has encouraged regents to look for ways to keep higher education costs down.
Richards said the intention of the board, taking to heart the predictability concerns, would be to do one tuition increase next year and work within those constraints. Whether that would lead them to err on the side of a higher increase, Richards would not say.
“We’re going to come in with the right number,” Richards said.
The university heads also explained a need for state funds, as well as the way they have worked to keep costs down.
“We have put together a budget that’s extremely conservative; we’re going to have to do a great deal of work to meet that budget,” University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook said. “What we’re asking for is the state to take on part of that, to increase our appropriation by about 2 percent each, in other words by about the (consumer price index).”
Nook said the university could keep tuition increases to about the same 2 percent CPI, if it had that state aid. Without it, he suggested the university would need to increase tuition by closer to 5 percent or 6 percent to fund that conservative budget estimate. University of Iowa and Iowa State University heads had proposed closer to 7 percent annual increases without increased state aid.
“That’s getting large,” Nook said. "I think most people in the state say that’s a significant increase. It’s predictable. We know exactly what it is, but it’s right on the edge of whether or not that’s reasonable, 5 percent per year."