Student leaders criticize lawmakers over university funding freeze

By: - June 24, 2021 3:28 pm

Student leaders from Iowa’s three Regents universities spoke against a state funding freeze that prompted higher tuition rates for the 2022 school year. (Screenshots from June 24 Board of Regents Meeting)

Student leaders at Iowa’s public universities on Thursday decried the state’s decision not to increase funding to the Board of Regents, prompting a proposed tuition increase for the upcoming year.

“The burden of financing Iowa’s colleges and universities should not be placed squarely on the shoulders of young people hoping for a better future,” said Regan Smock, undergraduate president at the University of Iowa. “This must become a priority for the state of Iowa.”

The Board of Regents released a plan this week to increase tuition at Iowa’s three public universities. In-state students at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University would see a 3.5% increase in tuition. University of Northern Iowa students would have a 1.5% increase in tuition. 

“The Regents really do try to keep the cost to the students as low as we can and still keep the quality up there where it belongs,” said board president Michael Richards in a Thursday meeting. 

Student leaders from the three institutions acknowledged the necessity for higher tuition, but they emphasized that accessibility and affordability of higher education was essential, especially for students financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are asking that it be as small an increase as possible to still allow us to maintain the exceptional level of education our Regents institutions have offered for generations,” said Julia Campbell, president of the Iowa State student government.

Two of the student speakers focused instead on the state Legislature. House Republican lawmakers championed an effort earlier this year to pass an education budget that did not provide additional funding to the Regents universities and did not make up for a $8 million budget cut from 2020. 

Walt Wang, vice president of the University of Iowa graduate and professional student government, said state disinvestment in public universities was a “troubling trend.”

“Affordable education is no longer considered a necessity by the state,” he said.

Smock said without adequate state funding, Iowa was squandering the benefits of having large, prestigious schools.

“When we choose to underfund higher education, we are sending our doctors, lawyers and engineers to a different state where they can afford their education and know that the work they do is valued in the community,” she said.

The Board of Regents will meet July 28 to vote on the proposed tuition rate increases.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.