Resident undergraduates get a third tuition freeze

Resident undergraduate students will be treated to a third straight tuition freeze next year, following state Board of Regents action on Dec. 3. In an 8-0 vote, the board approved rate increases of 1.75 percent for resident graduate students, 1.2 percent for all out-of-state students and 3.2 percent for all veterinary medicine students.

The freeze for resident undergraduates keeps tuition at $6,648 in 2015-16, and will trim incremental revenue to the university by about $2.2 million. The mandatory student fee at Iowa State will go up $4.50, to $1,087.90.

While ultimately he voted for the resident undergraduate tuition freeze, regent Robert Downer raised two concerns about it: that it creates a disproportionate financial hardship for the University of Northern Iowa, where the vast majority of students are resident undergraduates; and that some board members see anticipated savings from the TIER efficiency review as a rationale for approving a tuition freeze. No savings have been counted yet, he noted.

"My clear understanding was that those savings would be redeployed at the institutions from which they were derived," Downer said.

Noting that he believed "the public would be better served by incremental tuition increases that reflect annual inflation," Downer said he could support a third tuition freeze "particularly if the UNI situation is addressed."

Board president Bruce Rastetter said that the board's $12.9 million supplemental funding request to the 2015 Legislature to implement the regents' new performance-based funding model should "fix financial challenges at UNI and ISU." If funded, approximately $6.6 million would go to UNI and $6.3 million would come to Iowa State.

"This board knows that performance-based funding equals equitable funding for our universities. I believe our Legislature will accept it [funding model] and that we won't need annual requests that provide a stopgap," Rastetter said.

New center

The board approved Iowa State's proposal for a Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2) within the Center for Crops Utilization Research. It's Iowa State's sixth National Science Foundation-funded Industry and University Cooperative Research Center, and will focus on developing high-value biobased products from agriculture feedstocks. Iowa State is the lead institution and professor of ag and biosystems engineering David Grewell will serve as center director, but the center is a collaboration among Iowa State's biopolymers and biocomposites research team; the plastics engineering department at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell; the Composite Materials and Engineering Center at Washington State University and about two dozen fee-paying industry members.

New residence hall

The residence department received board approval to move ahead on a $49.5 million, 700-bed residence hall east of Buchanan Hall on Lincoln Way. The department currently has nearly 11,000 permanent beds in residence halls and campus apartments, and is leasing and operating off-campus apartments for another 1,060 students.

The department, working with facilities planning and management, will implement the university's first design-build process on the new residence hall. That process began last month with a request for team qualifications. Once design-build teams are verified, they'll receive ISU's request for proposal that includes specific information about what's sought for the new residence hall. Teams will submit their plans in the spring, with the final design-build team chosen from the submissions.

The project will be funded by two dormitory revenue bond sales (spring and fall 2015). Construction could begin in May 2015, with the hall ready for occupants in January 2017.

Stadium project additions 

The board approved the athletics department's request to raise the Jack Trice Stadium south end expansion budget $7 million, bumping the project budget to $53 million. The increase is due to both additions to the project and a competitive central Iowa construction market that added as much as 10 percent over estimated costs to bids. Project additions include a fire sprinkler system in the west suites (required by the state fire marshal), an electronic ribbon board around the stadium and replacing and relocating the 40-year-old field pump system. The department will reallocate funds to the stadium project from the companion project to develop the green space between the stadium and Reiman Gardens. That budget will go from $14 million to $7 million.

Transparent Inclusive Efficiency Review update

The board's TIER project manager Mark Braun provided an update on activities since the October board meeting. Estimated completion dates for three administrative business cases the board approved for university-led implementation are:

  • Standardize the Regents Admission Index calculation when a student's class rank isn't available, Dec. 15
  • Standardize size and structure of search committees for vacant professional and scientific positions, March 1, 2015
  • Create a common application portal for students who want to apply to more than one regents university, beginning of June 2015

Braun said the board office released three requests for proposals (RFPs) on Nov. 21. The first two, with a bid submission deadline of Dec. 12, are for implementation assistance on a procurement business case and three information technology and human resources business cases combined. The third, with a bid submission deadline of Dec. 19, is for assistance completing the academic programs portion of the efficiency review.

Other business

Regarding other Iowa State requests, the board approved:

  • Professional development assignments for 37 faculty members (PDF, pp. 26-32) for the year that begins July 1, 2015. The list includes eight academic-year proposals, 24 semester-long proposals and five proposals requiring from three to six months away from regular faculty duties. It is the second professional development assignment for 12 of the faculty members. Any Iowa State faculty member employed at least halftime is eligible to apply for a professional development assignment. There is no length of service requirement.
  • A purchase of a high-performance computing cluster for $1.7 million to meet the computation-intensive needs of research teams. It will become part of Iowa State's central high performance computing operation and be available to faculty on a shared basis. Individual research teams need only purchase the compute and storage nodes they need (without the burden to fund infrastructure and personnel). The purchase cost will be shared among colleges, departments and research/sponsored fund sources.
  • A $3.3 million plan to improve temperature control and reduce interior condensation in Larch residence hall by installing an insulated drywall partition in 272 student rooms. A similar project was completed last summer at Willow Hall. Dormitory system improvement funds will pay for the project.
  • A $16.5 million sale of  ISU utility system revenue bonds, the second of two bond sales that will pay for the replacement of three coal-fired boilers with natural gas-fired boilers.

The board also approved a change to the regents policy manual (Chapter 8) that, for purposes of tuition and fees, extends resident status to veterans and their dependents enrolled in a graduate or professional program and receiving benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery Bill. Undergraduate veteran students receiving GI benefits already have resident status.

During the board's education and student affairs committee meeting, Liberal Arts and Sciences associate dean Arne Hallum summarized Iowa State's 10-year-old Course Availability Group and the data-driven process that committee uses each semester to ensure adequate class sections and seats for high-demand courses.