Tuition increases, travel audit dominate regents discussion

Student leaders from the three regent universities expressed concern for the gap in tuition rates between in-state and out-of-state students during their remarks to the state Board of Regents last week. Acknowledging that tuition increases often are an unavoidable response to flat or reduced state appropriations, the students said the growing divide between resident and nonresident tuition is not a favorable trend.

Tuition for most resident undergraduates would go up $142 (2 percent) next year, as proposed. Three percent increases are proposed for:

  • Nonresident undergraduates ($614)
  • Graduate students ($254 for residents, $654 for nonresidents)
  • Veterinary medicine students ($646 for residents, $1,430 for nonresidents)

The board took a first look at proposed 2017-18 tuition levels at its Oct. 20 meeting; a vote is expected at the Dec. 6 meeting.

“Just because they don’t grow up in Iowa doesn’t mean they won’t stay in Iowa,” said Cole Staudt, ISU student government president. He said the $472 difference between proposed increases for resident and nonresident undergraduates “makes almost no sense.”

Staudt said resident undergraduate tuition, plus the declining state dollars per resident student – due both to less state operating support and rocketing enrollment -- no longer covers the cost of instruction for resident students. He said nonresident tuition then picks up the slack.

Iowa State's tuition proposal includes differential tuition for juniors, seniors and graduate students in five programs: animal science, biology, computer science, industrial design and natural resource ecology and management. The proposed differentials -- $1,600 in the undergraduate programs and $1,124 in the graduate programs -- reflect higher instruction costs and would be implemented over three years. The 2017-18 year is the second in a three-year plan that all international students will pay an additional $500 per year above nonresident tuition increases.

Iowa State also proposes to adjust several previously approved tuition differentials to create some consistencies. These changes include:

  • Raise the differential tuition rate for bachelor of architecture students to the same level as the five undergraduate programs. Architecture students have paid differential tuition since the 2012-13 academic year, currently about $1,250. To reach a $1,600 differential in three years, an additional $98 for residents and $106 for nonresidents would be assessed in year one.
  • Raise differential tuition for upper division Business students over three years to match that for upper division students in Engineering, ag systems technology and industrial technology (currently a difference of about $560 for resident students). Next year, junior and senior Business students would pay an additional $190 (resident) or $180 (nonresidents).

Staudt said he supports several proposed changes to student fees:

  • An additional $24 to the health fee will generate $800,000, he said, for mental health resources for Iowa State students. The proposed $58.50 increase to mandatory student fees also includes $30 for technology and $4.50 for student services.
  • A new one-time $130 records and documents fee, he said, will save students money over the course of their college careers. By paying it up front, Staudt noted it could be covered by financial aid, rather than being a repeat out-of-pocket expense. The new fee would eliminate three fees (graduation, drop/add/change a class, and transcript) totaling $103 if assessed just a single time.

Audit of state equipment, travel policies

The board approved an audit committee recommendation to complete a full audit of travel policies and state equipment use at the three universities, including Iowa State's purchase of airplanes. The action comes in response to questions about President Steven Leath's use of the planes. The board's chief audit executive Todd Stewart summarized for board members an initial compliance review his team began on Sept. 29 at executive director Robert Donley’s request. The initial review found that Leath did not violate existing policies, but recommended that Iowa State and the board expand the language in some of its policies.

Board president Bruce Rastetter clarified that the audit would cover every individual flight in ISU Flight Service since Leath became president. The audit needs to be "in-depth and detailed and answer all the questions people have," he said.

Earlier in the morning, Rastetter opened the meeting by reading a prepared statement about the air travel issue.

"We at the Board of Regents take the use of university resources very seriously. In more than just a few instances, the decision to use the plane appears to be questionable at best. We have an obligation as a board to oversee and ensure that our policies are followed and that our resources are used appropriately," he said.

Calling Leath a successful president, Rastetter continued, "we were all appointed as board members to ensure that our universities are run in a manner that the people of Iowa expect and demand. The issue has taken focus away from us being able to move our public universities forward. We need to return to devoting all of our time and resources to making the public universities the best they can be."

Leath told board members that he is committed to adhering to university and board policies.

"I am fully supportive and will be fully engaged in the more complicated review that will be coming forth this fall," he said. "I will work closely with you folks to make sure that is as complete as it can be.

"Clearly there are areas where I and Iowa State can improve," Leath added. "I want you know that I am pledging to do that. We will improve and we will do better."

Spring test for financial literacy program

For their new cooperative financial literacy strategy, the three regent universities have agreed to use CashCourse, an online program for college students developed and funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education. ISU professor emeritus in human development and family studies and project liaison Tahira Hira updated the board on the project. The regent universities agreed to use four CashCourse modules: budgeting, credit and debit, spending, and repaying student loans.

She said the agreement with CashCourse was reviewed by ISU's procurement services and university counsel staff prior to signing. It also passed website accessibility and IT security (to protect student data) assessments done by ISU teams. Hira said the next step is a pilot run during spring semester for a random sampling of Iowa State students that includes both learning and experiential assessments. The pilot will include a peer mentoring component, she said, to ensure participation and "a greater grasp of concepts among our students."

UNI presidential search

President pro-tem and search committee co-chair Katie Mulholland reported that there are more than 40 applicants for the Northern Iowa president position. The search and screening committee was to meet Oct. 26 to identify six or seven candidates for off-site interviews with the committee on Nov. 11-12. Three or four finalists will be selected for campus interviews to take place Nov. 30-Dec. 3, and interviews with the regents on Dec. 6. An announcement about the university’s next president is expected shortly after.

Geoffroy Hall, apartment leases, bond sales

In other board discussion:

  • Iowa State received permission to terminate a five-year lease with Harrisvaccines for the south half of the university warehouse on Southern Hills Drive off of Airport Road, replacing it with a 10-year lease (Jan. 1, 2017-Dec. 31, 2026, $172,000 per year) for the entire warehouse with the ISU Research Park, for use by Merck and Co., which purchased Harrisvaccines last winter. The building has been licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the specific research that Harrisvaccines conducts. The north half of the warehouse facility currently is home to ISU Surplus, which is preparing for a temporary relocation to the university's central receiving facility next door.
  • The board approved Iowa State’s proposal to name the nearly complete "Buchanan 2" residence hall for former president Gregory Geoffroy (2001-12). Gregory L. Geoffroy Hall (working name of Geoffroy Hall) will add 784 beds to the residence system when it opens spring semester.
  • The board approved Iowa State’s plan to sign five-year leases (Aug. 1, 2017-July 31, 2022) with Jensen Properties (for 828 beds in southwest Ames) and American Campus Communities (299 beds in Legacy Tower on Stanton Avenue), for a total of 1,127 beds in off-campus apartments. This is 335 beds less than the residence department is leasing through July from the two firms. The new leases will contain a 15-month opt-out clause, giving Iowa State the option to terminate a lease if student demand for university housing decreases.
  • The board approved two bond sales. The first is for $14.345 million of dormitory revenue bonds. They'll replace refunding bonds sold in 2006 to refinance bonds sold in 1999 and 2000 that financed phase two of the Frederiksen Court student apartments. Lower interest rates on the 2016 bonds will save the university $2.8 million. The second is for $24.48 million of utility system revenue and refunding bonds for two purposes: to partially fund a $22 million project to increase chilled water capacity on the west side of campus and to refund 2006 bonds issued for a chilled water project at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Lower interest rates will save the university an estimated $636,000.