UI, ISU, UNI tuition rates among issues raised during House hearing

DES MOINES — A few Republicans from the Iowa House are questioning why record private fundraising at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University hasn’t translated into a tuition freeze.

Representative Gary Mohr, a Republican from Bettendorf, led an online forum today that focused on a variety of issues at the universities.

“Many of our members and some constituents say: ‘If fundraising’s going so well, why do they need to keep raising tuition every year?’” Mohr asked.

Iowa State University president Wendy Wintersteen said tuition would be higher without that record fundraising, since the majority of what’s donated is spent on student scholarships and degree programs as well as research. “It makes all the difference at Iowa State because it fills in the gaps,” Wintersteen said. “It keeps us from having to raise tuition more.”

University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson indicated 98% of donations are restricted, meaning the donor has directed exactly how the money can be spent. “We can’t turn around and use that to pay faculty and staff and do the kind of deferred maintenance work we need to do and other things here at the University of Iowa,” Wilson said.

Wilson started at the University of Iowa in mid-July after serving as executive vice president for the University of Illinois system. “I’ve been here five months. I can tell you that Iowa universities, the Regent universities, have kept tuition low,” Wilson said, “…but we can’t keep doing that forever.”

David Barker, a member of the board that governs the three state universities, said the Board of Regents has kept tuition as flat as possible. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that inflation is a real thing,” Barker said, “and that our costs are increasing every year, even before this latest increase in the rate of inflation.”

University of Northern Iowa president Mark Nook said the toughest fundraising pitch to potential donors is for campus building projects.