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IOWA CITY, Iowa - As predicted, the Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday voted to freeze tuition for resident undergraduates for a second straight year – the first time that's happened since 1975.
But in an unexpected move, regents voted to decrease tuition for both resident and nonresident University of Iowa law students next year.
Among its tuition requests, the UI College of Law had asked to decrease rates for nonresident Juris Doctor students in the coming year. But Regent Katie Mulholland amended that proposal Wednesday to include Iowans, saying, "It's only fair that resident students have the same economic opportunities as nonresident students.
"It's a fairness thing. My proposal purely is that what is fair for one group should be fair for another group."
The approved decrease in UI law school tuition will drop resident and nonresident Juris Doctor costs by 16.4 percent. That translates to a drop from $47,252 to $39,500 for nonresidents.
The pool of qualified UI law school applicants has suffered in recent years from national and regional trends and dwindling interest in the legal profession. In the past two years, for example, Iowa saw a "significant reduction in Iowa resident law applicants," falling from 287 in 2010 to 173 in 2012, according to regent documents.
Officials said the goal of decreasing tuition rates is to keep the UI law school attractive in an increasingly competitive market.
Regent Robert Downer was the sole board member against the proposal to include residents in the law school tuition decrease.
"I'm concerned about this because the budgetary impact of decreasing the nonresident tuition was in the $300,000 range," he said. "This would be an amount in excess of three times that."
Downer said more time needs to be spent studying how decreasing law school tuition for both resident and nonresident students would affect the overall budget. But Regent Larry McKibben said he believes lowering tuition costs will increase enrollment, offsetting any lost revenue.
"If we could push up the enrollment of Iowa students by 10 to 20, we will more than cover that," McKibben said. "I fully support this."
The regents on Wednesday said the approved 2014-2015 tuition rates are contingent on state funding and warned that changes are likely if the legislature fails to approve a 4 percent boost in general university funding.
That means the tuition freeze for resident undergraduates remains at risk – although board President Bruce Rastetter said he's gotten positive feedback from lawmakers on the funding request.
Should the state come through with more money for its universities, tuition rates for resident undergraduates will stay at $6,678 for University of Iowa students and at $6,648 for both Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa students.
For nonresident undergraduate students, tuition will increase 1.8 percent at UI, 1.74 percent at ISU and 2.5 percent at UNI.
Graduate and professional tuition rate increases for both resident and nonresident students also were approved at all three regent universities.
Excluding UI law students, the overall cost at attend at all three regent universities next year will go up for most students, even with the tuition freeze, due to increases in mandatory fees and room and board costs. The total estimated cost for a UI resident undergraduate, for example, will be $21,086 in the next academic year, a 2.2 percent bump.
Still, student leaders have expressed gratitude to the board for their efforts to keep base tuition from rising. From 2009 to the current budget year, the average increase in tuition and mandatory fees for undergraduate residents in Iowa has been 3.9 percent a year.