EDITORIAL: $100 student surcharge has no place among Iowa university budget cuts

By the Quad-City Times Editorial Board

Iowa’s state universities are reacting swiftly and comprehensively to the sadly predictable news of the state’s revenue shortfall. When Iowans are making less and shopping less, the revenue derived from income, sales and other tax streams goes down as well.

So we’re glad to see the Board of Regents among the state agencies quickly obliging Gov. Chet Culver’s call for 10 percent across-the-board cuts. The schools have proposed temporarily reducing teacher retirement contributions from 10 percent of salary to 8 percent. That’s a major sacrifice by faculty and staff that all Iowans should appreciate. Iowa State and Northern Iowa universities also are considering furloughs and layoffs, tough cuts we’ve seen in most every private workplace. Iowa State ambitiously suggested longer furloughs for its highest-paid workers, up to a full 12 days for the university president.

We’re less heartened to see the universities automatically default to bigger tuition increases for next year, and worse, instituting a $100 surcharge immediately this spring. Regents voted 5-4 in favor of the surcharge, suggesting many of them share the same concern.

The tuition surcharge runs counter to what those state revenue figures keep telling us: Iowans are struggling.

That $100 surcharge will net each school 9 to 11 percent of the needed cuts. Every nickel helps, but this little bit comes from students and families already pinched by a whole series of little bits. Student work opportunities are down, trimming potential student earnings a little bit. State and federal scholarships already are facing budget cuts, squeezing students a little bit more.

Many tuition-paying parents are getting seriously pinched by rising fees, rents, utilities and their own workplace furloughs, cutbacks and the monster that grips everyone: skyrocketing health-care costs.

So an immediate $100 surcharge seems a pinch too far.

We know tuition will need to rise next year. And we know the universities face much tougher straits when American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal funds dry up, as they should. Culver’s dictate called for a 10 percent across the board cut this year. An emergency mandatory fee isn’t cutting.

Next year’s tuition rates will bring in revenue, and we hope those increases reflect Iowans’ economic reality, not just the universities’ needs. But scrap the spring term surcharge and remove one less pinch from families who – as state revenue figures suggest – already are squeezed too tight.

The 10 percent cut plan

Here are the plans submitted by Iowa’s three regents universities to achieve Gov. Culver’s 10 percent across the board cuts.

University of Iowa

Building renewal/equipment $5.1 million

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds $13 million

Spring tuition surcharge $2.2 million

Teacher pension temporary reduction $3.2 million

Total $23.5 million

Iowa State University

Spring tuition surcharge $2.4 million

Teacher pension temporary reduction $2.6 million

Temporary layoffs/furloughs $7 million

Trim the new Resource Management Model budget $12.5 million

Total $24.5 million

University of Northern Iowa

Use surplus tuition revenue $2.7 million

Reallocations/permanent reductions $1 million

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds $1 million

Teacher pension temporary reduction $1 million

Temporary layoffs $1.8 million

Tuition surcharge $1 million

Special line-item reductions $ 0.4 million

Total $8.9 million