CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook summed up the institution’s budget outlook Monday by saying it can deliver a high-quality education that is at a low cost to the state or at a low cost to the student, but it’s up to the Legislature to pick two out of the three.
“I’m not willing to negotiate on quality, so we have to pick between the other two,” Nook said ahead of a budget presentation on campus Monday. “That’s what we’re really trying to do here is show people what the balance would be between that state appropriation and the tuition so that we can protect the quality of the education.”
Nook presented three scenarios to the Iowa Board of Regents tuition task force, each looking at what would be needed for a tuition increase based on the state appropriation. Each assumed institutional expenses would be held to inflation-adjusted 2008 levels.
The scenarios are:
A state appropriation that increases with inflation, at 1.75 percent a year, would mean a tuition increase of 3.9 percent in fiscal year 2019, dropping within five years to 1.75 percent annually.
An appropriation that remains flat would mean a 6.7 percent tuition increase in fiscal year 2019, decreasing to 3.1 percent by 2022.
An appropriation where UNI saw a decrease of 3.2 percent — the same decrease it saw between the original 2017 budget and the appropriated amount for 2018 — next year and then remained flat would mean a tuition increase of 11.7 percent in fiscal year 2019, dropping to 2.9 percent by 2022.
“If we’re looking at scenario three, it’s predictable. I can tell you what it is. The question is, ‘Is that reasonable?’ And I think when we start to talk about 11 percent tuition increases, one time, I don’t consider that to be reasonable for families,” Nook said.
Nook said the figures are based on projections five years out, as the task force requested, not promises of what the university would do. The figures present the choice in how to fund the university.
“I think what we’re really hoping for is that we get into this conversation in an educated way, and people understand the sort of give and take,” Nook said.
Nook said the university wants tuition increases that are “reasonable and predictable” for families.
UNI is the only of the three regents institutions that gets a majority of its general funding dollars from state appropriations. It also has the highest percentage, about 88 percent, of students who are Iowans, whose education is meant to be subsidized by the state funding.
Nook said the university plans to expand enrollment, increasing its share of out-of-state students. That would not be at the expense of accepting Iowa students.
The growth in out-of-state students is due to a decreasing number of students graduating from Iowa high schools and out of a desire to expand diversity on campus. The five-year outlook would increase enrollment by about 450 students.
Nook also stressed the “very conservative” plans for expenses to be tied to inflation-adjusted 2008 levels. He said most institutions grow at a rate higher than the consumer price index.
But the expenses factor in faculty and staff increases to grow with enrollment, maintenance, health care cost increases, financial aid increases and salary increases at CPI, or 1.75 percent annually. Emergency contingencies for things like information technology and classroom needs aren’t included.
“What we’re really saying is that we’re going to find some efficiencies in our budget if we’re going to stay at CPI. That’s difficult to do. We’re about as efficient as an institution can be and maintain the quality we’ve got,” Nook said.
He added, “At the same time, then, that’s sort of what we’re putting into the pot to help students and families keep this tuition low. But we need some support from the state as well, because even if we take this very conservative approach, the tuition could rise quickly if the state doesn’t help us with this.”