Regents wait and see on spring 2021 tuition

Regents wait and see on spring 2021 tuition

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IOWA CITY — More details are emerging about changes at Iowa’s public universities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa State University will cancel study abroad programs scheduled to leave before Dec. 1.

The three regent schools already canceled spring and summer study abroad experiences, recalling thousands of students in March from around the globe as the COVID-19 threat grew.

ISU, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa each have teams crafting plans to resume on-campus learning, research and even athletics — including possible mask and distancing guidance, classroom reconfiguration and creative use of residence halls.

At the same time, the universities are coping with devastated budgets — depleted by tens of millions from curtailed programming, dorm housing and dining refunds and extra COVID-19 expenses — while also considering student and employee financial pains from job loss and health care costs.

The campuses have warned employees of pay freezes, furloughs and reassignment for staffers who no longer have meaningful work.

But the threat of enrollment declines — and lost tuition revenue — has regents considering an unexpected tuition freeze for the fall.

The frozen rates regents will consider approving Thursday represent the full 2020-2021 academic year. But documents before the board note regents “may re-evaluate the tuition and mandatory fee rates for the spring 2021 semester.”

That reconsideration of tuition rates for spring could come later this fall, “as more information becomes available,” according to the board office. Documents don’t say what information regents will consider in assessing spring tuition rates.

For fall, though, if the board gives final approval this week, UI resident undergraduates will still pay a base tuition of $8,073; ISU resident undergraduate rates will stay at $8,042; and UNI resident undergraduate base rates will remain at $7,665.

Rates for nonresident students, graduate and professional students and international students also will not move — and neither will most fees, save a few being decreased or eliminated.

Although ISU and UI leaders for years have advocated stepped annual tuition increases — to improve revenue and move their respective campuses closer to peer institutions — the COVID-19 crisis has them relying more heavily on state appropriations, which already will be spread to a historically thin degree in the coming budget year.

The regents also will be searching for any untapped efficiencies as the campuses try to resume in-person learning this fall.

In a recent statement, board President Mike Richards stressed, “We don’t yet know what the financial toll that this pandemic will have on our regent institutions, but we know it will be significant.”

“So we cannot focus on returning to business as usual,” he said. “We must be proactive about the hurdles ahead and redesign our universities to make them stronger.”

To that end, the board formed an advisory group co-chaired by Regents David Barker and Nancy Dunkel. Regents Nancy Boettger and Jim Lindenmayer also will serve on the committee, charged with “looking at administrative and academic collaborations and efficiencies.”

The board later this week will consider ratification of that group and its two subcommittees — one to look specifically at administrative functions and another focused solely on academic issues.

The academic subgroup will include the university provosts and faculty senate leadership. The administrative group includes finance and operation heads for each campus.

“We want to explore opportunities and look for solutions and greater collaborations across the universities,” Richards said in his earlier comments. “For example, we must consider expanding the opportunities for students at one university to take classes online from one of the other universities, and we must look at whether administrative functions at all three universities can be consolidated.”


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