Regents consider third tuition freeze

As the state Board of Regents last week reviewed a proposal for modest tuition increases next year, regent Larry McKibben announced his intent to propose a third straight tuition freeze when the board votes on the topic on Dec. 3. The 2015-16 tuition proposals received a first look at the board's Oct. 23 meeting in Iowa City.

Citing high student debt at graduation as a key motivator, McKibben said, "we can do better. It [freeze] can be done. We have six weeks to talk about this."

Regent Ruth Harkin, long a proponent of low to no tuition increases, said she supports freezing tuition for in-state students, but asked board staff to prepare data that compares resident and nonresident tuition rates if the former remain unchanged. She said it's not in the state's interest to let the gap between the two get too large.

Student regent Hannah Walsh told her colleagues that "nonresident students are important to us," citing the tuition revenue, diversity and excellence they contribute to the universities. Iowa and Iowa State's student body presidents both are nonresidents, she noted.

Quality has a cost

President Steven Leath said he's sensitive to access and affordability for Iowa families, but he also reminded board members of Iowa State's escalating enrollments in the last five years and the obligation to provide all students with an excellent education.

"Access and affordability without quality is no bargain. I would ask and encourage the board to provide the resources to assure quality at Iowa State and our sister institutions," Leath said.

Iowa State's request is a 1.75 percent increase for resident students (undergraduate and graduate), 1.2 percent for out-of-state students and 3.2 percent for all veterinary medicine students.

Government of the Student Body president Hillary Kletscher told board members that ISU students have told her they could work with a small increase, though "another tuition freeze would be great." If there is an increase, she said students would like to see state support for the universities increase by the same proportion.

Proposed ISU tuition increases, 2015-16 (two semesters)




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Transparent, Inclusive Efficiency Review update

On the heels of open forums this month on the three university campuses to review eight business cases proposed by the Deloitte consultants, the board asked each president to summarize reactions to and comments so far. The board is scheduled to make implementation decisions about the eight business cases at a special Nov. 14 meeting (2-3:30 p.m., telephonic).

Leath said initiatives such as the TIER study create a cultural shift that requires buy-in, not only to complete changes tied to TIER but efficiencies identified by campus teams as well. As evidence of that buy-in, he mentioned two TIER-related suggestions previously begun at Iowa State:

  • 1,000 desktop computer stations have been replaced with thin client devices, with the goal of "rapidly moving that to 2,500"
  • 800 servers across campus were consolidated into a central shared facility, with 40 additional server spaces identified for possible consolidation

Not all of the eight business cases contain such "straightforward, refined" proposals, he noted. Specifically, the two related to human resources and finance functions require "substantially more analysis and design before we're accurately able to predict how good they'll be and how we should implement them," Leath said.

He proposed that the universities gather more information locally and work with the board's TIER project manager Mark Braun to decide "what is the appropriate design and mechanism to make implementation achievable and worthwhile."

Wisconsin's flexible study option

Aaron Brower, interim chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and UW Extension, video conferenced in to summarize Wisconsin's 10-month-old flexible option, which uses competencies to assess what students know and can demonstrate. The mostly online program is designed for an estimated one million adult workers in the state who have some college credits but no degree. In its first year, 250 students are enrolled in 10 programs – in health care, business and IT -- at five UW campuses.

The faculty role, he said, is to develop competencies, assessments and study content and to oversee assessments. The program relies on current faculty and the university system's strong academic reputation, Brower said. Wisconsin created a new master's degree-level position, academic success coach, which blends the duties of academic adviser, tutor and life coach. These coaches point students to learning resources and help them prepare for assessments.

Building projects

The board gave a green light to four Iowa State construction projects:

  • Final approval for a $4 million plan to construct faculty research laboratories in Hach Hall basement space intentionally left unfinished when the building opened in 2010. Private gifts will cover the cost of the project.
  • Final approval for a $6.2 million residence department plan to remodel the unused Friley Hall dining room into a food court/dining center with indoor seating for 300 and outdoor terrace seating. The cost will be covered by department funds ($1.7 million) and dormitory revenue bonds ($4.5 million).
  • Adding $3 million to the project budget (to $27.1 million) for the renovation of Marston Hall, due to a competitive construction market and bids that exceeded project estimates. The additional cost will be covered by private gifts and College of Engineering funds.
  • Begin planning for summer 2015 improvements to the exterior walls of Larch residence hall to improve insulating value and reduce condensation, similar to the work done at Willow Hall last summer. The estimated project cost of $3.3 million will be covered by department funds.

Academic business

The board also heard oral annual reports on economic development/tech transfer efforts and strategic plan progress at the regent schools.

The board gave final approval to these academic program changes at Iowa State:

  • Name change for the integrated studio arts department in the College of Design, to art and visual culture, to better align with the program's curriculum as well as terminology used at peer universities, effective immediately
  • Name change for the interdisciplinary M.S. and Ph.D. programs, to genetics and genomics (currently is genetics), to better reflect the curriculum and faculty research, effective spring 2015
  • Termination of M.A. and Ph.D. programs in history of technology and science (history department), due to reduced department funding, faculty retirements and inability to maintain the graduate programs, effective after two remaining students graduate (expected this fall)
  • Name change for a Ph.D. program in the history department, to rural, agricultural, technological and environmental history (currently is agricultural history and rural studies), effective spring 2015. This will integrate elements of the discontinued Ph.D. program, above.