Lawmakers should study fees while debating tuition freeze
The union that represents 2,300 graduate workers at the University of Iowa injected some substantive information last week into the debate over tuition increases at Iowa’s public universities.
The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students issued a report that calls the growing number of mandatory fees paid by students a back-door tuition increase. The organization says university officials are being disingenuous when they boast of a proposed three-year tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students while quietly increasing mandatory student fees.
The report claims that while tuition has increased by 260 percent since the 2000-01 school year, the mandatory fees have increased by 500 percent. UI graduate students are now paying almost $1,000 in mandatory fees, which are scheduled to increase next year.
The report points out that the original intent of the fees was to fund very specific programs and activities used by a subset of students. Now, though, it appears they are used to cover general operating expenses.
We say “appears” because of the vague and almost indecipherable data the University of Iowa provided the union in response to a September request for information on the money raised through fees and the precise manner in which the money is being spent.
That’s precisely the sort of information university administrators should have — and probably do have — at their fingertips, particularly in the midst of the current, statewide debate over tuition rates.
The Iowa Legislature will soon weigh in on the Board of Regents’ proposed tuition freeze. Lawmakers should make mandatory fees a part of their discussion, and university officials should be prepared to explain precisely how those fees are now being used.