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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Tuition at the University of Northern Iowa could hold steady for the 2013-2014 school year, but students could be expected to pay an increase in fees, including $25 that would go to the athletics department.

The Board of Regents will consider tuition and mandatory fee increases for the three universities when they meet Thursday in Iowa City. A decision will not be made until the December meeting.

At UNI, administrators are considering a $50 increase in mandatory fees. The lion share of the increase, $41, will go toward “student services,” which includes $25 that would be transferred to Intercollegiate Athletics in an effort to reduce the department’s dependence on the general education fund.

Jordan Bancroft-Smithe, the Northern Iowa Student Government president and chair of the university’s student fees committee, surveyed students about the potential increase earlier this month. He said about 65 percent of the more than 500 students who responded favored the increase, as long as the money collected was used to decrease money the department received from the general education fund.

Bancroft-Smithe said that is the case ... sort of. Last spring UNI President Ben Allen announced sweeping cuts across campus, which included closing Malcolm Price Laboratory School, cutting about one-fifth of the university’s academic programs and a $500,000 cut to athletics that would be spread out over the course of the next three years.

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Bancroft-Smithe said in the first year — the committee laid out an eight-year plan that would increase the student fee to $200 by the final year — 75 percent of the money collected from student fees would be used to backfill those cuts with 25 percent being earmarked to reduce general education fund contributions to athletics. In the second year 50 percent would be used to fill the cut and 50 percent would be used to shrink the GEF fund contributions. By the third year the full 100 percent would be used to lessen university contributed funds. The new funding model would mean that athletics could never receive more from the GEF than it did in fiscal year 2012, prior to the $500,000 decrease.

“So, depending on enrollment, that will determine at the end of the eight years where athletics are in the general education fund,” Bancroft-Smithe said. “If enrollment skyrockets then the proportion goes down faster.”

UNI is expected to transfer $4.1 million from the GEF to athletics this year as well as $1.4 million from current student fees. UNI’s allocation from student fees is currently next-to-lowest among the Missouri Valley Conference’s public institutions.

Jeffrey Funderburk, a professor in the School of Music, recently told the Faculty Senate that he wasn’t opposed to the increase, but he is “troubled by the way this model has been presented to the university community.” He added that students should be allowed to decide if they support a student-fee model, but said they needed clear information to make their decision.

His biggest concern is that students wouldn’t understand that the trade-off is not a dollar-for-dollar shift.

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