Tuition questions will simmer until regents' October meeting

Up to their next regular meeting Oct. 19, the nine members of the state Board of Regents will review the regent universities' five-year tuition proposals and supporting documents. No decisions have been made on tuition increases, said regent Larry McKibben at the board's Sept. 7 meeting in Iowa City. McKibben led a four-regent group this summer studying how to provide tuition predictability to students and their families and sufficient operating resources to the three regent universities.

The board will receive 2018-19 tuition proposals next month and approve tuition rates in early December. McKibben said one message task force members heard frequently was that Iowa's public universities aren't three locations of the same product. He said the board would "take that into careful consideration" when it sets next year's rates.

Tuition Task Force final report

Board president Michael Richards said the regents are committed to setting tuition rates once a year, not twice as has occurred the last two years. During the busiest period this summer, board members received about 50 emails daily on the funding question, he said. Most writers requested low tuition increases, but other consistent messages included a desire for four- or five-year price tag predictability once students start college and support for different tuition rates at the three universities.

In his report to the board, McKibben highlighted several higher education funding facts:

  • The state of Iowa ranks in the lower third, nationally, in public tuition and fees assessed to resident students
  • The state's six-year graduation rate (68.9 percent) ranks first in the nation
  • State appropriations are trending down; this year's state support for the three schools, in actual dollars, is essentially what it was in FY 1998
  • The state ranks last in the nation in state-awarded, need-based financial aid for public university students ($3 million in FY16)

McKibben said the solution to underfunded higher education in Iowa has three components:

  • Revised priorities and a bigger funding commitment from the Legislature and the governor. Current funding levels neither adequately supplement the tuition assessed resident students nor allow the universities to provide cost-of-living salary increases to employees, he noted.
  • Greater and ongoing savings through efficiencies on the three campuses. McKibben pledged to reconvene this month the regents' TIER (Transparent Inclusive Efficiency Review, 2014-16), an initiative to save money or achieve greater efficiency at the universities. He noted that up-front investments are sometimes required for long-term savings.
  • Stable, predictable tuition and fees that don't restrict access to education. Increases above cost-of-living adjustments "should be the last resort," he said.

"Our public universities desperately need to have increased annual state financial support. This board, as well as all Iowans, must work harder in conveying this message to our legislators and governor," McKibben said. "We're headed downhill, and it has to stop."

In the face of recent state revenue shortfalls and potentially more in the near future, Richards acknowledged a tough assignment ahead.

"We'll try to make the case in individual discussions with legislators and the governor," he said. "We need to thoughtfully put our plan out there."

Bond sales

In other business, the board approved two bond sales for Iowa State:

  • $6.25 million in athletic facilities revenue refunding bonds, to advance refund $8.2 million in athletic facility revenue bonds sold in 2007 to pay for renovations to the west side of Jack Trice Stadium. Lower interest rates will save the athletics department an estimated $801,000.
  • $37.9 million in ISU Facilities Corp. revenue bonds to partially pay construction and equipment costs for the two biosciences projects, Advanced Teaching and Research Building, and Bessey Hall addition. The ISU Facilities Corp. was organized in 2015 as a not-for-profit organization of the ISU Foundation to assist in maintaining, developing and increasing university facilities and services; this is its first bond issuance. The corporation is part owner until the bonds are paid.

Next year's facility priority

Iowa State’s sole new capital request for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018, is $20 million to begin a multiyear effort to replace the 40-year-old Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The same request was not funded by the 2017 Legislature.

The board has to submit all FY19 funding requests to the state by Oct. 1.

As proposed, Iowa State would seek an additional $80 million in state appropriations for the project over the next four years (FY20-23). The estimated $124 million price tag also relies on $20 million in gifts and $4 million in university funds.

As approved by previous Legislatures, Iowa State also is scheduled to receive this state building support in FY19:

  • A final $4 million for the biosciences projects (initially part of FY18 funding)
  • $10 million for the Student Innovation Center (third of what's now six years of state support)

The board also will ask the state for $20 million to be shared by all the institutions in FY19 for deferred maintenance, energy conservation and safety projects.

Projects: recreation fields, poultry farm

The board's property and facilities committee reviewed and will recommend approval in October to the full board ISU requests to begin plans for:

  • Improvements, including new flexible layouts to accommodate multiple sports, lighting, irrigation and support facilities, to 37 acres of recreation fields east of Jack Trice Stadium. The estimated cost, $8 million to $12 million, would be funded by recreation services funds.
  • One or more new buildings (an estimated 50,000 square feet) for poultry teaching and research, including classrooms and teaching labs, at the current Poultry Science Farm on South State Avenue. The estimated cost, $5 million, would be paid with private gifts.

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