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COURTESY PHOTO

Northern Iowa President Mark Nook

COURTESY PHOTO

IOWA CITY — The tuition task force report delivered to the Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday didn’t offer any hints on what it plans to propose in October.

But it was clear throughout the presentation the regents and university heads are trying to keep costs low and be transparent in hopes of securing additional state funding.

“We’re going to keep working with them. We’re trying to make the case of what will continue to help our universities to be here for the next generation and also try to work through the details in public of how we arrive at a decision on tuition,” said regents President Mike Richards.

He continued, “I think we’re thoughtfully putting our ideas and plans out here, and I hope to be talking to the legislators individually about what we think the priorities are.”

The tuition task force was established this spring to look at a long-term vision for the universities’ tuition rates, particularly after the regents had to come back for a second increase in two consecutive school years.

Richards, who was not on the task force, said three themes emerges during meetings on the three university campuses this summer.

They were that students want lower tuition increases; students and parents want more predictability; and there’s support for differing tuition rates at the three public universities.

Thursday’s the board took public comments for the second time, and both speakers drove home those points. They raised concerns about tuition and whether the board was doing enough to ensure higher education is affordable.

The board did not discuss proposed rates for next school year, which will have a first reading at the Oct. 18-19 regents meeting at University of Northern Iowa.

Regent Larry McKibben, who led the task force, said the group’s report looked at national trends and summed up comments from university heads and the public. But the task force didn’t have enough data yet to say what figure it would put forth for next year.

“The question remains, ‘What do we do next?’” McKibben said. “It is clear that the Legislature and governor must make a long-term commitment to funding our public universities at a level that will maintain high-quality education, while not restricting student access.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds' spokeswoman Brenna Smith said budget proposals are not finalized for the next session but higher education remains a priority. Smith said the governor has encouraged regents to look for ways to keep higher education costs down.

In the name of predictability, the board hopes to set just one tuition increase next year. Whether that leads it to err on the side of a higher increase Richards could not say.

“We’re going to come in with the right number,” Richards said.

The university heads explained the need for state funding and how they’ve worked to keep costs down.

“We have put together a budget that’s extremely conservative; we’re going to have to do a great deal of work to meet that budget,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “What we’re asking for is the state to take on part of that, to increase our appropriation by about 2 percent each, in other words by about the (consumer price index).”

Nook said the university could keep tuition increases to about the same 2 percent CPI if it had that state aid. Without it, he suggested the university would need to increase tuition by closer to 5 or 6 percent. University of Iowa and Iowa State University leaders have proposed closer to 7 percent annual increases without increased state aid.

“That’s getting large. I think most people in the state say that’s a significant increase. It’s predictable. We know exactly what it is, but it’s right on the edge of whether or not that’s reasonable, 5 percent per year,” Nook said.

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Political Reporter

Political reporter at the Courier

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