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Regents want to avoid a higher tuition increase for next year

Diane Heldt – CR Gazette –

DES MOINES — State regents told lawmakers Wednesday they want to avoid discussion of a higher tuition increase for next fall as they work through the process of negotiating state funding.

During a meeting with the joint Education Appropriations Subcommittee at the Statehouse, the presidents of Iowa’s three public universities and leaders of the state Board of Regents were asked how a state funding decrease might affect their institutions, and if it would mean a larger tuition increase than has already been set for 2012-13.

Expected enrollment increases at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa require more instructors, more classroom space and more facility maintenance, said regents President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter of Alden.

Additionally, salary and benefit increases will cost the universities $40 million more next year, he said.

“That’s the reality of the situation we’re in,” he said, adding that the regents want to avoid a larger tuition increase than the 3.75 percent already approved.

Regents President Craig Lang of Brooklyn said students and their families can plan for the future when they know tuition increases will be at or near inflation.

“If something happens that interrupts that, it takes away from our ability for families to plan,” Lang said. “We’d hate to talk about (more tuition) increase because we think it’s a process.”

Various scenarios are in play for higher education funding, ranging from millions more in state appropriations to millions less.

Rep. Ron Jorgensen, vice chairman of the education appropriations subcommittee, said the universities may want to study program duplication to reduce costs. The Republican from Sioux City said there’s a public perception that the universities are too costly and too inefficient. He suggested that an evaluation from an outside entity would go a long way to convince the public.

The university presidents talked about what they’ve already done, including cutting programs and consolidating colleges and departments, eliminating jobs through early retirement, and working to hold down administrative costs, which they noted are among the lowest compared with peer schools.

UI President Sally Mason said an outside study of efficiency and duplication would be money spent to “find out what I already know.” She said the focus is on protecting programs that enhance the student experience and educational quality.

“Other things, we’re more than happy to look at efficiencies and work as hard as we can,” Mason said. “If you feel we absolutely have to have some outside eyes looking at this … tell me what would convince people of what we know we’re doing and we’re doing well.”

The regents and presidents can do a better job, though, of telling people what efficiencies already have been found, Rastetter said.

“My sense is there’s a lot more of that that’s gone on, I know there is, and there’s a lot more work to do,” he said.

The regents are requesting about $18 million in new funding next year for educational initiatives and to cover inflation; that’s a 4 percent increase to this year’s $449 million. They’re also asking for $4 million annually for three years to help UNI through budget challenges, since that school relies more on in-state tuition than the others do.

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