Tuition Rising – Is Anyone Surprised?

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Brandon Borkovec over at Iowa Policy Project does a great analysis of the disappearing state support for our public institutions of higher education here in Iowa as the Board of Regents once again announced a rise in tuitions.

Today’s announcement of plans to raise tuition at Iowa universities should not surprise anyone. When the Legislature cuts back, the regents need to fill in the gaps. And that creates new gaps, in family budgets immediately, and beyond, with — student debt.

The full picture is considerably more stark. Adjusting for inflation, state funding for public universities has declined since fiscal year 2001, by 40 percent at the University of Iowa, 42 percent at Iowa State University, and 28 percent at the University of Northern Iowa.

And these calculations do not include the recent current-year budget cuts for FY2018 ordered by the Legislature and signed by the Governor that took a disproportionate share from the regent institutions — $11 million or about one-third of the total.

To fill the financial needs of the institutions, the regents have turned to increasing the annual tuition paid by students. Between fiscal year 2001 and 2016, tuition at the regent universities has increased between 72 percent and 75 percent. 

In fact, there has been a shift in the primary source of funding, from state appropriations to tuition and fees. In fiscal year 2001 the University of Iowa received 63 percent of its budget from the state. In fiscal year 2016 it had dropped to 34 percent. For the other universities the drop was: 68 percent to 35 percent at ISU, and 70 percent to 56 percent at UNI.

Many students will walk out of Iowa universities with a debt load equal to a small home. With the rules around student debt enacted by Republican congresses such debt is acquired at usury rates and even death does not relieve a person from paying back student debt. Former students will most likely be in debt well into their adulthood.

Carrying this substantial debt will certainly enter into many of the decisions they make as they enter into the workforce and their major consumer years. Purchasing housing may be delayed, auto purchases may be downgraded, families delayed and downsized. These are consequences that are hard to calculate but very real.

There may also be a cost to our society as a whole as many potential students may simply not attend college or defer attending college or take a different route in order to lessen their long term financial burden. This at a time when America’s economic rivals equip their young citizens with the skills they need for the future.

Another aspect of the dwindling support for higher education is that one of the major reasons behind the cutback in support is so that the state can dramatically cut taxes for industries which need a supply of well educated young people to keep them competitive. Surely seems to be at cross purposes.

As the legislature cuts and cuts revenue they are substantially cutting into the qualities of life that once made Iowa the kind of place where people wanted to settle down and raise a family.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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