IOWA CITY - The governing board of Iowa's public universities voted Wednesday not to raise tuition rates for in-state undergraduate students next school year, gambling that lawmakers will approve enough new funding to continue operating without cuts.
The tuition freeze is the first since 1982 in Iowa, where graduates carry some of the nation's highest student debt loads. The Board of Regents unanimously approved the plan without discussion during a phone meeting.
But the plan is contingent on the Legislature approving a 2.6 percent funding increase to maintain operations at the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, which is by no means guaranteed.
Board members have warned they may raise tuition in the spring if the Legislature does not come through - a potential public relations fiasco that could create problems for already-enrolled students and finger-pointing over who was to blame. But Board President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter said he doubted that would be necessary.
"We feel very confident that we will gain that support and we will be able to hold the tuition freeze at a zero level," he told reporters.
The plan keeps base tuition at $6,678 at Iowa and $6,648 at Iowa State and Northern Iowa. It would raise tuition by less than 3 percent for out-of-state undergraduates, generating $9.3 million in new revenue. Graduate and professional students would also see increases that would bring in an extra $4.5 million.
Legislative leaders say it's too soon to say how the proposal to boost spending by roughly $40 million will fare. While Iowa has a budget surplus, the governor and lawmakers face no shortage of plans to spend the money and uncertainty over possible federal budget cuts.