Northern Iowa Student Government

Tuition Speech to the Board of Regents

By: Spencer Walrath on Thu, 10/27/2011 - 11:09

This morning I spoke before the Board of Regents on the proposed tuition and fees increase and also on the need to adjust state appropriations to better fund UNI. The Regents will not vote on increasing tuition and fees until their December meeting, which means that you still have time to make your voice heard. A transcript of my speech is included below.

Good morning. My name is Spencer Walrath and I am a senior  from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying music, psychology, and political science at UNI. I have the honor of serving the students of the University of Northern Iowa as their student body president and I want to thank President Lange and the members of the Board for the privilege of addressing you today.

Before I talk about the proposed tuition and fees increases, I want to present some background information on UNI.

UNI's budget situation is unique and contrasts with the University of Iowa and Iowa State's. 92 percent of UNI's students are residents of Iowa. This compares to 64 percent at Iowa State and 57 percent at the University of Iowa. This means that UNI pulls in dramatically fewer out-of-state tuition dollars than our sister schools, which negatively impacts our bottom line.

Earlier this week I was asked a very interesting question, "Why does the state of Iowa contribute to public education?" In my opinion, the simple answer is, "To educate Iowans." By educating our workforce, our state becomes stronger and more productive. With that in mind, I now ask a question in return, "What other 4-year institution caters to Iowans as well as we do?"

Despite UNI's success in attracting and educating Iowan students, the state of Iowa has disinvested in our resident students, and UNI receives the least amount of state appropriations per student out of the three universities. For fiscal year 2011 UNI received $7,502 in state appropriations for every resident undergraduate student. This amount is $3,300 less than similar students at Iowa State University and $10,126 less than similar students at the University of Iowa.

UNI provides a valuable service to the state of Iowa by training our graduates to be outstanding in their professions and communities. Many of our students go on to be world-class educators, accountants, and entrepreneurs. What's more is that we do a great job of encouraging our graduates to stay in Iowa where they help the state grow and prosper. 60 percent of UNI alumni live in Iowa, which can be compared to 39 percent at Iowa State University and 33 percent at the University of Iowa.

It is clear from the data I have mentioned that UNI is an excellent resource for the state of Iowa and also, in my opinion, underappreciated and undervalued by the State. I believe the UNI's proportion of state appropriations should be reassessed and adjusted to give UNI a greater share.

I've spent the last few weeks talking to UNI students about the tuition and fees increases and I've heard two competing sentiments. The majority of students that I've spoken to have supported the tuition increase. They support the increase because they understand that without it, UNI faces an even greater deficit than it already has. Students want to maintain the high quality education they currently receive. They want their specific programs to continue and they also want to continue to have a variety of options when selecting courses to satisfy their Liberal Arts Core requirements.

UNI students cherish our small class sizes. For many students it was a deciding factor when they chose to come to UNI and there are many students who are willing to pay the cost of the tuition increase if it means maintaining their small class sizes.

However, other students have made it abundantly clear to me that they do not want an increase in the cost of their tuition. I have received several emails from students and spoken to many more that are upset with the proposed tuition increase and have asked me to take a stand. These students feel that the time has come to stop increasing tuition year after year and that we must send a message to the state of Iowa that we wish for them to reinvest in students, who are the future of this state.

I believe that we have reached a turning point. Students have been willing to cover our share of the costs, but we are now doing more than our share. When students are paying for almost 60 percent of the cost of their education at a public university, something in the formula must change.

These tuition increases have had and will continue to have an enormous impact on people like me who grew up in lower class families. UNI students, on average, come from lower levels of social economic status more so than students at other institutions. These students do not have the same financial resources available to them that other families do.

However, students who come from poor backgrounds have federal grants available to them for the explicit purpose of helping them cover the cost of tuition and making higher education accessible to those who need it most. We need it because an education is the only way for students to break out of the lower class. For me, graduating from college means that I do not have to go back to the trailer park I lived in when I graduated high school.

The problem is that Federal Pell Grants max out at $5,500. A few years ago, when tuition and fees were around $4,000, these federal grants were a good deal. You could almost afford to live on campus with the money left over. But when tuition and fees are proposed at $7,635, federal aid will not cut it anymore. Even if a student received the maximum amount of aid, $5,500, they would be $2,135 short. Add to that amount an additional $7,686 for room and board and $4,132 in other costs, and you are looking at $13,953 that is unaccounted for by federal aid. Where will that money come from?

When we continuously raise tuition, we make higher education inaccessible to students like me. These are students who have faced a lot of adversity and have emerged stronger as a result. These are students who have diverse life experiences, are hard working, and driven to succeed. These are students that are ideal future Panthers, Cyclones, and Hawkeyes, and a degree from a 4-year university is their ticket to a better life. And these are students who, when tuition increases year after year, are denied the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.

I said it was a privilege to appear before you today, and I truly mean that. It is a privilege because, if I were a high school senior looking to attend UNI next year, I would not be able to afford it. I feel blessed that I have been able to attend UNI for the last 4 years. If I had not attended UNI, I would not have developed the leadership skills that bring me before you today.

I believe that it is vital that we keep higher education affordable and accessible to all students, but every increase in tuition pushes us further from that goal. I support this year's tuition increase, but I call upon the Board to find a different solution for covering costs in the coming years. Thank you.