Reverse Tactic of Shifting Costs to Students (Opinion)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Iowa’s annual investment in higher education declined from $914 million in fiscal 2009 to $739 million by fiscal 2012. During a period when higher education is more important to economic growth and prosperity than it has ever been in Iowa, our leaders have chosen to sharply reduce state investment in higher education.

The decline in state support began a decade ago, when Gov. Tom Vilsack shifted state money from higher education to K-12 education to improve teachers’ salaries.

Iowa’s fiscal support for higher education declined from $11.42 per $1,000 of personal income in fiscal 2001 to $9.84 in fiscal 2002. Since then, Govs. Chet Culver and Terry Branstad have overseen continued reduction in the state’s higher-education investment. By fiscal 2012, it had reached $6.36 per $1,000 of state personal income — the lowest level on record in data reported since fiscal 1961.

In response to declining state fiscal support, Iowa’s public universities and community colleges have raised tuition charges. Between 2001 and 2010, state per capita personal income increased by about 8 percent (constant dollars), but undergraduate tuition at the University of Iowa increased about 99 percent, and by about 75 percent at the state’s community colleges. The costs of operating public colleges and universities have been shifted from state taxpayers to students and their families.

Iowa has chosen to try to make higher education policy, program and funding decisions on the fly, guided by short-term political expediency. 

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