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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Regents ask $12 million to cushion tuition burden

If approved by lawmakers, aid would go toward resident undergrads
By By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Sep 19, 2017

IOWA CITY — After lawmakers earlier this year cut base appropriations for Iowa’s public universities by $30 million, the state Board of Regents is trying a new tack: It’s requesting that lawmakers approve $12 million specifically for financial aid to resident undergraduate students, board documents made public Monday show.

The board, which will formalize its request at a special meeting Monday, is not asking for any additional incremental increase in base general funding for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa beyond the $12 million.

That, in a sense, is something the institutions started planning for over the summer when the universities proposed sharp annual tuition increases for the next five years — under the assumption there would be no bump in state aid for general operations.

UI and ISU suggested a 7 percent annual hike for resident undergrads, and UNI suggested a 5 percent annualized increase — which some argue would make more financial aid imperative.

Although it has heard tuition pitches from each university, the board has not yet unveiled the rates it will consider. Regents plan a first consideration in October and a final vote in December.

Students and lawmakers have criticized the universities’ tuition proposals, saying they could price some students out of the market — especially first-generation and low-income students, who are a growing percentage of Iowa high school graduates.

Some have urged the board to up its advocacy for more state support instead, and board members will consider those avenues as well.

University leaders vowed to increase financial aid offerings while insisting the need for more tuition revenue is dire, with faculty members leaving for better-paying institutions.

If lawmakers approve the $12 million increase in appropriations for resident undergrad aid, the UI and ISU would get $5 million each and UNI would get $2 million, according to the proposed funding request made public Monday.

The $12 million would increase the state’s $483 million allocation for general aid to the public universities in the current budget year by 2.5 percent to $495 million in fiscal 2019. That percentage falls within the Higher Education Price Index range as analyzed by the UI Economic Research Institute.

Documents also point out, in arguing for the increase, the state “has no financial aid funding designated solely for students attending Iowa’s public universities.”

Those students currently have to apply for aid through programs available to all sectors — like the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship, which received a $3.1 million appropriation this year; or the Iowa National Guard Education Assistant Program, with its $2.8 million appropriation.

Pointing to the state’s Iowa Tuition Grant, the board contrasted the millions that lawmakers commit annually specifically for students who attend private or for-profit schools — $46.6 million this year for nonprofit enrollees and $1.5 million for those heading to for-profit institutions.

“The $12 million appropriations request for financial aid to undergraduate students from Iowa would be available solely to students attending one of Iowa’s public universities,” according to the board proposal.

Regents reported Iowa ranks last in the country in need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions.

If lawmakers approve the request, board spokesman Josh Lehman said, the universities would work with regents to determine how to allocate it — whether based on need or on first-generation students, for example.

When asked Monday about the regent proposal, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said, “As with all funding requests, we will have to wait and see how much revenue will be available next fiscal year before making any commitments.”

The board’s ask for $12 million more in general university appropriations is part of its fiscal 2019 total request of $622.35 million, which includes funding for the board’s special schools, regional centers, Iowa Public Radio and “special purpose” uses like UI’s state hygienic lab and ISU’s agriculture experiment station.

During the board’s special meeting next week, each university president also will give a report on “efficiencies and reallocations” in light of deep cuts they had to make following the state funding cuts.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said he supports committing more resources to residential undergrad student aid, but would like to see the board ask for even more — noting what the board did also: that state support for higher education in Iowa remains well below 2009 levels even as enrollment has skyrocketed.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said he can’t predict whether the request would receive legislative support “given the majority party’s complete botching of the budget, along with a general disdain for public education.”

“I certainly think it’s a fair proposal and one that I will work across the aisle to successfully balance the budget,” he said.

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