IOWA CITY - Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday that he would love to support a freeze in tuition rates for in-state undergraduates at Iowa's three public universities for a second straight year.
Speaking to the Iowa Board of Regents, Branstad stopped short of endorsing the board's proposal to freeze tuition in exchange for a 4 percent increase in general state funding for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. He said he would have to review state revenue estimates in December and all other funding requests as he puts together his proposed state budget, which will be unveiled in January.
But he applauded the board for freezing tuition for in-state undergraduates for the current school year, for the first time in three decades. He said he would like to see it continue for a second year, which would be the first such back-to-back freeze since 1975.
He said the plans were part of an effort to help Iowa families afford tuition after "dramatic increases" over the last 10 or 12 years.
"Many of our students today are very concerned about being saddled with unmanageable debt on graduation," he said during the meeting at the University of Iowa student union.
The board, which governs the universities, is considering a plan to freeze tuition rates for resident undergraduates at $6,678 at Iowa and $6,648 at ISU and UNI.
The plan is contingent on lawmakers approving the 4 percent funding increase during the session next spring. The universities got a similar funding increase to allow the freeze for the current school year.
Key board members on Thursday expressed support for the plan, which is expected to gain final approval in December. Regents warned, as they have in the past, that they could cancel the freeze and approve tuition increases next year if the budget approved by lawmakers doesn't include the increased funding.
Board President Bruce Rastetter told reporters that it should be easier this time to convince lawmakers to support the plan than last year. He suggested that cost-saving and reform efforts by the universities would also help convince lawmakers to back the funding increase.
He announced a new efficiency study Thursday, to be led by Regents Larry McKibben and Milt Dakovich, to look for ways to save money. Another task force, which met for the first time last week, is studying the way that state funding is divided among the three state universities and whether to tie money to performance measures such as on-time graduation rates.
Rastetter said recommendations from those two groups could be critical in holding down tuition costs and student debt load in the years to come.
Costs would still rise despite the tuition freeze. The average cost of attendance for a resident undergraduate - which includes room and board and other costs - is expected to rise to $19,719 next year, a $245 increase. Mandatory fees for those students would increase by $64 at UNI, $18.50 at Iowa and $5.80 at ISU.
And the tuition freeze wouldn't help all students.
Nonresident tuition would go up by $334 per year at Iowa State, $402 at UNI and $460 at Iowa. Tuition would also rise modestly for all graduate students, regardless of residency. Those increases would bring in $11.1 million more in tuition revenues for the universities next year, the regents' proposal estimates.
Rastetter called those modest increases that still kept the universities' tuition rates competitive in the marketplace.