Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register Published 6:08 p.m. CT Jan. 29, 2019
Iowa’s two largest public universities are planning to raise tuition but told lawmakers Tuesday they will need more state money to keep students from having to pay even more.
The University of Iowa and Iowa State University asked the Iowa Legislature for an additional $7 million each for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook is asking for an additional $4 million.
At the bigger schools, the extra money will go toward need-based financial aid. But they still plan to raise tuition by 3 percent. UNI would not raise tuition if they get the money, the president said.
If lawmakers do not grant the full funding increases for UI and ISU, tuition could rise as much as 5 percent, university officials warned.
The University presidents said the tuition increases are necessary to maintain the quality of their programs.
Michael Richards, the president of the Iowa Board of Regents, said the increases are part of a plan to raise tuition at UI and ISU by 3 percent each year for the next five years. He said the plan creates predictability.
“They’re going to know it’s going to go up 3 percent each year, but at least we know,” Richards said.
That comes after last year, when lawmakers cut $11 million from Iowa and Iowa State’s budgets in the middle of the fiscal year as part of a package of larger cuts to balance the state’s budget.
The regents will not officially consider the tuition increases until their April meeting, with a final vote set for June.
The universities are asking for funding to boost their financial aid so that students can graduate with less debt.
“Student debt is a topic we must address head-on, with empathy as well as data,” said UI President Bruce Harreld.
University of Iowa students graduate with an average debt of $14,680, while ISU students on average graduate with $17,209 in debt, and UNI students graduate with $18,276. UI students’ average debt has decreased by $1,200 since 2014, Harreld said.
At the same time, the school has plans to increase the percentage of students who graduate in four years, which Harreld said will also help them avoid taking on any unnecessary debt.
“Our focus, I think, at times has been that six years is good enough,” Harreld said. “No, no, no, no. Four years is the target.”
Over the last decade, UI has increased the percentage of its students who graduate in four years from 44 to 54 percent. The school’s goal is to have 60 percent of its students graduate in four years by 2021, Harreld said.
At Iowa State, 49 percent of students graduate in four years, while 43 percent of UNI graduates finish in four years. The national average is 35 percent.
UNI President Mark Nook is asking for an additional $4 million in funding from the Iowa Legislature each year for the next several years so the school can avoid raising tuition.
Nook said UNI is more expensive than its peer institutions by about $1,600. The total price to attend the university each year is $19,880.
“What we’re asking for is $4 million from state support so that we can maintain the quality of the education we deliver and hold our price point where it is right now,” Nook said.
Granting the full funding requests of the three universities — totaling $18 million — would bring state funding of the three universities to $499 million during the next fiscal year.