The last five years have been marked by tight budgets, mid-year cuts and - more than once - mid-year tuition increases. Too often, uncertainty has been the prevailing trait of tuition levels at Iowa’s public universities.
That’s about to change.
At its May 1 telephonic meeting, the Board will hold a first reading of tuition rates for the 2019-20 academic year. This is the first year of a five-year “guardrails” plan, which, as introduced by President Mike Richards last November, outlines a five-year funding strategy that works in concert with legislative appropriations to provide stability and predictability.
“One key theme we heard during our discussions with students, families and legislators has been predictability,” Richards said in November. “Predictability also includes what we request from the taxpayers and what the universities can reallocate through efficiencies.”
Last fall, the Board asked for an additional $18 million in general fund appropriations, all of which to be used for need-based financial aid. The legislature appropriated $12 million in additional funds during the 2019 session.
The guardrails plan establishes three-percent tuition increases for resident undergraduates in each of the next five years at Iowa and Iowa State. If additional state appropriations are less than the Board’s request, resident undergraduate tuition will increase by more than three percent. The Board’s 2019-20 tuition plan includes a 3.9 percent increase for resident undergraduates at Iowa and Iowa State, and no increase for resident undergraduates at UNI.
As Richards explained in November, a varied approach to tuition better fits the different missions of Iowa’s public universities.
“Another key theme from our analysis and conversation was differentiation of resident undergraduate tuition,” Richards said. “In the past, all the universities were treated the same. Clearly, they are not the same. The University of Northern Iowa needs to be more competitive in pricing in comparison to other Midwest comprehensive universities.”
Further, the Board’s proposed tuition plan will set tuition just once per academic year: In June. This supports the Board’s goal of reducing uncertainty in two ways. First, setting tuition only one time per year means families will not be surprised by mid-year tuition readings and can look to the Board’s June meeting - every year - for clarity. Second, setting tuition in June allows the Board to act with more complete information on the state budget and appropriation levels for Iowa’s public universities.
Think of tuition as just one piece of the total resources landscape. State appropriations and efficiencies serve as the other two. With all three working together, Iowa’s public universities will have the necessary resources to achieve the Board’s goal of providing quality, affordable education.
“We cannot look at the three primary areas of funding individually; we must look at them collectively,” Richards said. “Each is interdependent of the other but we cannot talk about one without the others.”
A predictable, stable tuition model allows the universities - not to mention students and families - to plan for the future. That’s what the guardrails plan is all about: The future of the Regents institutions.