IOWA CITY --  In considering publicly for the first time a proposal to raise the base tuition at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University nearly 4 percent next fall, administrators Wednesday aired the challenges of balancing financial needs like hiring and keeping faculty with the competition for students and efforts to hold down college debt.

UI President Bruce Harreld underlined the impact should the Board of Regents and its public universities fail to navigate this higher education labyrinth.

“There is a brand that is going on your CV called a degree from the University of Iowa,” he said. “In the last few years, the value of that degree as seen by others has been dropping in some of the rankings. We need to stop that, and stop that now.”

The way to do that, he said, is to “close this gap in our funding.”

“I’ve spoken many times about the dramatic decline in state funding over the last decade,” Harreld said Wednesday during the board’s first of two required readings to set tuition for the 2019-20 academic year. “It’s in that context that I think we need to understand that also, for whatever set of reasons, we’ve not been able to get our tuition up to even offset that decline in state appropriations.”

The proposal to raise resident undergraduate tuition by 3.9 percent at the UI and ISU — and to leave the rate untouched at the University of Northern Iowa — now advances to the board’s June meeting in Ames.

Recent cuts in state appropriations have left the universities with far fewer resources and larger student bodies, prompting regents to unveil a proposal last year tying student costs with lawmaker funding.

The five-year model shows resident undergrad rates at the UI and ISU would increase 3 percent annually if lawmakers fulfill the board’s full appropriations request.

But when the 2019 legislative session ended last week, lawmakers had approved a $12 million increase in the board’s funding — $6 million less than the board requested and the governor recommended.

So under the model, the tuition rate would slide up to help make up the lost revenue.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet signed the regents’ appropriation bill.

Because UNI has a different student body and a more regional mission with lower-cost competitors, the board has proposed keeping all UNI tuition rates frozen in the upcoming academic year.

UNI President Mark Nook thanked the board for allowing UNI to go its own way on tuition.

“Our cost to students — tuition and fees — was not competitive and was affecting our efforts to recruit students to UNI,” Nook said Wednesday.

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Based on enrollment projections, Nook said, UNI needs $4 million to $5 million increases in state appropriations annually for five years to keep rates frozen.

“The $4 million in new state funding and zero increase in tuition for next year is an important first step in helping UNI become more competitive in an extremely competitive marketplace,” he said.

His remarks imply that the $12 million funding bump would be evenly divided between the three universities. But regents spokesman Josh Lehman said that decision is yet to be final.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said any split of the smaller increase is disappointing.

“While I truly appreciate the $12 million increase in state appropriations to be split among the regent institutions for general operations, this amount falls well short of the board’s $18 million request — a request that was supported by the governor,” she said.

Student representatives spoke to the board about its tuition proposals Wednesday, and all focused their frustration on the Legislature.

UI Student Government President Noel Mills noted the impact a $300 bump could have on students from both in the state and out of state.

“A mere $300 would require around 30 hours of work, eight appointments donating plasma, or skipping around 60 meals,” she said. “These are very real consequences for my peers and for me. With scholarship opportunities dwindling, rent prices increasing, and a cap of 20 hours per week on university-affiliated jobs, students are already struggling to make ends meet.”

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