Comments to the Board of Regents about Tuition Increase proposal

Full comments from the GPSG President Josh Schoenfeld to the Iowa Board of Regents meeting on June 9, 2016, regarding the proposed supplemental tuition increase:

I want to thank the Board for taking the time time listen to the student perspective on the proposed tuition increase.

I am in an interesting position, having been re-elected President of GPSG this year, to be, for a second year in a row, addressing you about yet another proposed tuition increase in light of, yet again, disappointing allocations from the Legislature.

Last year I asked the Regents and the University administrators to move the focus off of tuition increases as a source of revenue and put significant effort into fostering alternative sources of revenue.

Although I am happy we are making progress towards this end, much more needs to be done, as many of these avenues will not produce significant revenue for several years.

So once again we are discussing tuition increases to cover shortcomings in the State’s commitment to higher education.
As I am here representing grad and professional students, I’m in a slightly different situation than my peers next to me:

  • Graduate and Professional students have not experienced three consecutive years of a resident tuition freeze - which is a large part of the cause of this large increase we are discussing here today. What you are doing is asking graduate and professional students to pay for the tuition freeze of undergraduate residents over the last three years.
  • Although graduate students pay similar tuition rates to undergraduates, far fewer resources are often available to them since the Legislature, the Regents, and the UI often focus much of the resources and initiatives on undergraduate education.
  • And while professional education is more expensive than undergraduate education, our students pay significantly higher tuition to cover these differences.

Much time is spent talking about how Iowa education is a great value: it provides a high quality education at the lowest, or near lowest, tuition in our peer group. However, while we do offer a high-quality education to professional students, this is not nearly as affordable relative to our peer institutions.

For example:

-Medicine is the most expensive in our peer group
-Dentistry, with mandatory fees, is the most expensive in our peer group

Our graduate and professional students are graduating with unsustainable debt burdens. Graduate Students: 25K, Pharmacy 140K, Medicine 220K, Dentistry 250K. These students cannot bear - and many are strongly against - any additional tuition increases.

Already we hear from students who are dissuaded from lower salary careers towards higher salary careers in order to afford to pay off their dramatic student loan payments. This includes careers as primary physicians, a specialty desperately needed to serve the citizens in this State, or to pursue careers in other higher salary states, helping to drive the ‘Brain Drain,” and resulting in a loss in State revenue. Students with large debt burdens are less likely to infuse money into the local economy through daily expenditures and home real estate purchases. As such, these large increases in tuition are directly harming the health and economy of the State in the long term.

However, we recognize the great need for increased revenue at the University. Affordability means nothing without receiving a high-quality education at the other end. We need to increase faculty salaries to attract and retain faculty and maintain excellence on our campus. We also recognize the need for many of the strategic initiatives proposed for increasing student success as well as the quality metrics in which UI has been slipping over the past several years.

But just as the universities need to plan long term for their future, so do we need to ensure the long-term financial security of our students. For many, $300 or $400 increases seem reasonable. But let's do some rough math:

For example, on top of the increases already imposed this Fall, non-resident medical students will pay an increased tuition of $1,666 dollars. If we imposed additional $400 increases each year, that student would be paying $9,064 more in tuition over their four years. Given the unsubsidized nature and high federal interest rates of graduate student loans, if the student were to pay off their large student debt on schedule, this would translate into roughly $13,500 in increased debt. To extend the loan payment schedule, as many student do, the students debt would increase this to closer to $20,000 over the life of the loan.

So, although we are talking about arguably reasonable numbers today, these translate into large numbers and long-term impacts on our students' futures.

Given these conflicting priorities, together, UISG and GPSG respectfully request a compromised supplemental increase of $200 for all university of Iowa students. This number allows an increase in University revenue above and beyond what the deficit in State allocations was, but does not overly burden our students financially.

And just to add one last thing - I find it rather frustrating that the Regents ask students to come here to provide comments on tuition during the first reading, and before students even have a chance to provide their comments, multiple Regents state that they are going to support the increase. This undermines the whole premise of shared governance and the reason we were asked to comment here today.

In closing, I want to reiterate our understanding of the need to maintain a high quality education and that the only way to do that is to raise more revenue. Even though, in an ideal setting, we disagree that tuition should be the major source of this increased revenue, we agree that given the current political climate this is our current reality. We only ask that you make this increase with students financial futures in mind and we hope that we can find a compromise with an across-the-board $200 increase.

Thank you.

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