Sally Mason: UI president talks tuition freezes, fundraising, and retention
Sally Mason joined the University of Iowa in 2007, becoming the university’s 20th president. She’s since focused on keeping undergraduate education affordable and of high quality and led the campus through unprecedented challenges. President Mason recently addressed questions about the university in 2013 and beyond.
What are your priorities for academic year 2013–14?
We announced this year the $1.7 billion For Iowa. Forever More. comprehensive campaign, so fundraising continues to be a major priority. The good news is that since 2008 we’ve raised well over $1 billion, and we now have three more years to finish the campaign. Another priority is making certain we don’t lose momentum on the various flood-renewal projects while also keeping the campus stable through all the construction.
Why such an ambitious effort, and why now? What will be the major beneficiaries?
I can think of no better time than now, and if we don’t have ambitions, we’re really missing the boat. It’s time to think in a bold way about what the future holds for our institution, for the young people who come here, and for the people who work here. We’ve worked very hard to grow and steward our alumni and donor base, and I think now is exactly the right time to take full advantage of that stewardship. Private support is critical today for institutions like the University of Iowa, and we need to mobilize people.
All areas of the university will benefit from the campaign. We’ve designed it very specifically and intentionally to articulate nicely with our strategic plan. There is a lot of focus on our students, our faculty, and on the activities they engage in together, whether it’s learning, research, engagement, or service.
In a related topic, how is the university tackling access and affordability, especially for Iowa residents?
We’re freezing in-state tuition. We’ve done a really good job getting through this recession and becoming more efficient. We’ve cut down significantly on our expenses and redirected our spending to our strategic plan priorities, including student success. So we feel we’re in good position to hold the line on tuition increases, especially for Iowa residents—and especially with the help we receive from the Iowa Legislature. During the recession, we’ve intentionally held tuition increases to inflation or below. We know that the economic downturn affects everyone.
The UI has committed to increasing student retention. What strategies are being employed to do so?
We know that if we’re going to lose students, it’s often between their freshman and sophomore year, so our focus has been to ensure that our first-year students have the best possible experience at Iowa. The key is making them feel a connection to the university right away, so before they even start classwork, they participate in the On Iowa! program. Another tactic is through living-learning communities, where students with like interests live and take classes together. Yet another is first-year seminars, in which students are connected with a professor or a senior administrator teaching a class in an interest area that the professor and student share.
Lots of things are working in tandem to make a difference, and we’ll continue to ramp up our efforts.