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Board of Regents declares tuition freeze for public universities

by EMMA BRUSTKERN

On May 4, the Iowa Board of Regents did a first reading of the proposed tuition rates for the 2020-21 academic year, recommending no increases in tuition or fees due to the impact of the  novel coronavirus, resulting in financial strain on students. The board will do a final reading and vote on June 4. 

The Board of Regents governs Iowa’s three public universities: the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. The tuition freeze strays away from the annual increases outlined previously in its Multi-Year Tuition Model. 

“The COVID-19 epidemic is unprecedented. Like every other facet of society, our public universities have undergone massive disruptions, which affect all of our students, faculty and staff,” stated the board’s 2020-21 tuition proposal. “It is important that our students, families and our institutions have as much financial predictability as possible. Therefore, it is recommended there be no increases in tuition rates or mandatory fees.”

The announcement signals a major win for Iowa Student Action, a chapter of national organization Student Action that is fighting for student debt forgiveness and free college for all. The group, which has members at all three regents universities, as well as Drake University and Grinnell College, has been advocating for a tuition freeze for two years. Most recently, the group shut down a Board of Regents meeting in Urbandale this past February while demanding a tuition freeze. 

According to Iowa Student Action, the tuition freeze will save Iowa students and their families $6.5 million. In the face of economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, students say the freeze is crucial. 

“Students don’t have jobs or reliable income,” said Iowa Student Action University of Iowa base lead Dulce Escorcia. “And so getting access to those basic needs is even harder now and a lot more unstable. . . We have to prioritize our survival.” 

Still, members of Iowa Student Action believe that the tuition freeze is long overdue. Their long term goal remains to reverse the Multi-Year Tuition Model altogether. The group claims the model, which would raise tuition 3-5% each year, serves to harm poor students and students of color.

“A tuition freeze was important before COVID-19,” Escorcia said. “That’s why we’ve been running this campaign for two years. Even before the pandemic, a lot of students struggled to make ends meet.”

As a private university, Drake is not governed by the Board of Regents. Drake also has a tuition guarantee, which ensures that a student’s cost of tuition will never change from their start at Drake to the end. Drake is one of only 119 colleges and universities across the nation to have a tuition guarantee.

Although the tuition freeze does not impact Drake students directly, Iowa Student Action members at Drake recognize the importance of supporting their fellow students.   

“It’s about showing them that we are a united front and if our colleagues win, we all win,” said Drake student and Iowa Student Action member Abby Bankes.

Although the tuition freeze is a sign of progress, students involved say there is more work to be done. Iowa Student Action recently released a petition, calling upon the Board of Regents, President Reynard Kington of Grinnell College, President Marty Martin of Drake and President Johnathan Brand of Cornell College to: 

  1. Reimburse 50% of tuition and 100% of fees for Spring 2020
  2. Reduce tuition by 50% and waive all fees for the duration of the crisis
  3. Pledge not to raise tuition for the next five years
  4. Urge Governor Reynolds to issue a shelter-in-place order

As of May, Drake has made no move to reimburse tuition by 50%, although students were given the opportunity to get partial refunds on room and board. Drake also created a Student Emergency Fund to give money to students in urgent need. But for students like Bankes, that’s not enough.  

“I would like to see the Drake administration see that Iowa Student Action is making changes and is winning,” Bankes said. “The Board of Regents are listening to us. I hope this is really making the Drake administration see what’s going on and see the power of students.”

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