Regents assign tuition set aside solution to a committee

The state Board of Regents wants to end its policy of setting aside tuition income for student financial aid. Meeting Wednesday in Iowa City, the board asked a committee of university, university foundation and board office staff to propose a five-year plan for eliminating the practice and to recommend alternative funding options, such as a state-funded grant program and larger foundation contributions to student financial aid. The board's focus is on funding need-based aid for undergraduate resident students.

The committee was asked to present a preliminary report at the board's September meeting and a final report at the October meeting.

Iowa State's committee members are student financial aid director Roberta Johnson, ISU Foundation vice president Larissa Holtmyer Jones and associate vice president for business and finance Pam Cain.

"We want to have a plan we can share with the governor and Legislature as we ask for their help," said regent Bruce Rastetter. He said he's also looking for strategies for working with the universities' foundations, particularly on merit-based scholarships that would help keep Iowa's brightest high school graduates in the state.

But he noted that a primary goal of any recommendation must be maintaining access to a college education for Iowa students in need.

According to board data, the ISU Foundation contributes about $15 million annually to undergraduate student financial aid at Iowa State. Tuition set aside at Iowa State contributes in excess of $50 million to the financial aid central fund.

Board president Craig Lang said he has received many emails from parents asking for immediate elimination of tuition set aside at Iowa's public universities.

Regent David Miles said that the current set-aside program "accomplishes many good things" and asked that any changes to it "not take any steps backward, especially regarding access to education for the neediest students in our state."

The decades-old practice drew criticism from legislators this spring, prompting the board to agree to study it.

In Iowa, the practice of using a portion of tuition revenues for student financial aid goes back to the 1960s. Since FY03, board policy has required the three regents universities to set aside a minimum of 15 percent of tuition revenue for financial aid. In the face of state funding cuts and the resulting tuition increases, the actual practice typically has been more generous than that. In recent years, Iowa State has set aside 22 to 23 percent of tuition revenue for aid.

Accountability for financial resources

The board approved an additional annual reporting requirement for the three universities intended to "increase the clarity and accountability of how Iowa's public universities spend their resources." The report will be due each fall and include four components, for which templates are provided. They are:

  • Summary of state operating appropriations and tuition expenditures by these functions: instruction, public service, research, student services, academic support, institutional support, scholarships and fellowships, and operations/maintenance
  • Comparison of the university's functional spending (above) with its peer schools
  • Break out of "instruction" function dollars by these divisions: lower division and upper division undergraduates, master's, advanced graduate and professional
  • Summary of how incremental increases and reallocations were spent and how they support the university's core mission

Rastetter said the information would be useful to the governor, legislators and other stakeholders in the state.

In other business, the board approved nominating Richard Jacobsen of Des Moines for the Iowa Award, the state's highest citizen award for public service, in recognition of his numerous and generous gifts to the three regent universities.

Other Iowa State requests that the board approved are:

  • Add $1.2 million to the budget of the Curtiss Hall renovation project. The increase reflects the need to add central air conditioning to rooms with window units (required by window replacement) and difficulties encountered in modernizing a 104-year-old building while it remains occupied. The revised budget is $14.3 million; the increase will be covered by university funds.
  • Revisions to proposed changes to the elevated walkways at the Iowa State Center that add landscaping, parking and roadway improvements, and development of a master plan for the center complex. The project budget went from $1 million to $2.5 million and still will be covered with facilities use funds.
  • Name the department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology for the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, in recognition of the trust's latest gift to the department -- $7.5 million to support new initiatives in the area of biomolecular structure. The name change is effective immediately.
  • An initial 10-year lease between Ames area developer Dickson Jensen and the athletics department on a yet-to-be-constructed indoor golf practice facility on South Duff Avenue. Jensen will pay to build the facility; the department will pay about $235,000 a year to lease it for the men's and women's golf teams. The source of the funds is athletics operating revenues and private gifts.
  • A 50-year lease with the city of Ames for a small parcel of land in the southwest corner of the city's Moore Memorial Park, north of Veenker golf course. Iowa State will reconstruct a golf maintenance building there, out of the Squaw Creek flood plain. The existing building has sustained flood damage numerous times in the last 30 years. Flood insurance reimbursements and FEMA funds will pay for the relocation. In lieu of lease payments, the city would be allowed to store maintenance equipment in the building and, if it has a basement, have a public access storm shelter included in the lower level.
  • The appointment of Jonathan Wickert as senior vice president and provost, effective July 30, and a salary of $350,000.