State university students cite homelessness, debt in response to Regents’ proposed tuition increase

By: - June 20, 2022 3:01 pm

Iowa Board of Regents' President Michael Richards overseeing the special meeting regarding proposed tuition increases for the three universities. (Screen shot courtesy of the Iowa Board of Regents YouTube.)

Iowa State graduate student Rachel Sorensen said Monday she is homeless for the summer because she’s not earning enough to cover the cost of living. She told members of the Iowa Board of Regents her situation isn’t unique and their plan to increase state university tuition and fees will make it worse.

“My concern when I see the tuition raise or raising fees automatically goes to grad students who are struggling to get by,” Sorensen said. “We are having departments shut down. We’re having students not be able to get funding in the summer. We’re having students who are actually homeless in the summer, and they’re trying to raise extra money at this point to pay their tuition if they are masters’ students and then it is extremely difficult for them.”

Sorensen, vice president of the Iowa State University Graduate and Professional Student Senate, was among student leaders who spoke Monday during a special Regents’ meeting about the effect of a proposed 4.25% increase in tuition to cover rising costs and overall stagnant funding from the state.

Sorensen said she knows international students who stranded in the county because they can’t afford the costs of travel while paying tuition costs.

Rachel Sorensen is a graduate student at Iowa State University and is the vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Sorensen)

“I struggle to think how we can balance the need for international students to come but at the same time raise the tuition for them to the point where it can make it difficult for them to go back and get their visa so that they can go back into our country,” Sorensen said.

University of Northern Iowa’s Student Body President Leila Mašinović is a first-generation college student. Mašinović said her mother came from a war-torn county while facing the atrocities of genocide. A degree was not a possibility for Mašinović’s mother but she always encouraged her daughter to pursue an education. For this reason, Mašinović said she is serving as a voice for other students also fighting for their future.

“Something we all understand is the financial burden that a college education can cause to not only our students and their families, but to the communities that they could have served if they were able to continue their education as they have wished,” Mašinović said. “This unfortunate circumstance of a promising individual not being able to attend college because of rising costs will only be a great disadvantage and hindrance to our society.”

In 2021, 56% of students graduated from a state university in Iowa with student loan debt averaging $28,500. This is roughly what out-of-state students pay in a year to attend an Iowa public university. The University of Northern Iowa serves as the state’s only regional comprehensive university, which Mašinović said is in need of greater state funding to maintain lower tuition rates in comparison to the two research universities.

University of Iowa’s Student Body President Patrick Johnson said with rising costs, the universities look toward out-of-state students to come to Iowa and stay after they graduate. Yet as tuition increases, Iowa’s median household income remains in the bottom half of the nation. Nonresident students at the University of Iowa will pay less than a 2% increase instead of an additional 4.25%.

“The contradiction stands boldly for all of us,” Johnson said. “We continue to increase economic barriers for our students and simultaneously question the reasons why they must relocate following their graduation. This model, as I’m sure as we are all aware, is simply unsustainable and in need of reform.”

The Iowa Legislature approved a 1.1% increase to all three universities. The 2023 appropriations are still $85 million less than 2009 appropriations. Riley Post, vice president of  UI’s Graduate and Professional Student Government, said state allocations have decreased in purchasing power due to inflation, while tuition has only gone up.

“We’re really taking the responsibility for funding these institutions away from the state and moving them on to the backs of students,” Post said. 

Iowa State University Student Body President Jacob Ludwig said the only way to prevent future tuition increases is for greater funding to come from the state. 

“State budgeting prerogatives have made the acquisition of additional funds an uphill battle that is harder to win with each passing year,” Ludwig said. “This reality means that we have to advocate more and harder for the universities that we all love.”

Board members did not comment on the tuition proposal. The final reading and vote on the proposed tuition increase will take place on July 27. 

“What is it going to take for legislators to invest back into the public universities of Iowa?” Mašinović said. “For in the end, that is not just our education we are asking you to assist in funding, we are asking you to invest into the leaders of the community that will take care of you when the time comes. To change our society to change our society for the better, we must go where it all begins. An affordable and accessible education helps a society flourish.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Rachel Sorensen’s title. She is the vice president of the Iowa State University Graduate and Professional Student Senate.

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She will serve as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in the fall.

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