By Gavin Aronsen

Gov. Terry Branstad rolled out a new public university affordability and debt reduction plan during a visit to Iowa State University Tuesday that includes offering $10,000 bachelors' degrees for popular majors pursued by in-state students and a new debt reduction tax credit for students who do volunteer work.

The Republican governor, who is running for an unprecedented sixth term this fall against state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, spoke at the Gallery Room of ISU's Memorial Union to a student-heavy crowd of about 40 people.

Branstad's plan also includes implementing fixed-price value degrees, which as proposed would slash 50 percent or more off current tuition costs for at least half of the majors offered in each university department.

"These are ideas that go along with some of the efficiencies the regents are putting in place," Branstad said, referring to the $3.3 million cost-saving review the Iowa Board of Regents has contracted with the Deloitte consulting firm on.

The limited-cost bachelors' degrees and fixed-price courses would require Board of Regents approval. Branstad is asking the regents to develop a series of $10,000 degree programs within a year, and he is aiming for the fall of 2016 to begin offering the fixed-price courses.

He said he'd been in touch with the board's president, Branstad-appointee Bruce Rastetter, and believed he and the other regents would be on board with the ideas.

The student debt reduction proposal would have to get the go-ahead from the state Legislature.

As proposed, the tax credit would be given to taxpayers who donate to qualifying student debt reduction organizations. The organizations, in turn, would buy down debt for students participating in community service work.

As state Democrats push for a third consecutive tuition freeze next year, Branstad claimed that the idea was first proposed by former Regents President Craig Lang, whom Senate Democrats declined to reappoint last year, and would have already happened had Democrats not tripped up GOP legislative efforts in 2012.

Branstad wasn't ready to commit to another tuition freeze himself, although he took credit for the first two. He said the Deloitte efficiency review would likely achieve a similar effect going forward once its suggestions are implemented.

"The regents are doing this study right now, promising savings, and they've promised that all the savings will be reinvested in the universities," Branstad said. "So I don't foresee that we're looking at any significant increase in tuition."

(c)2014 the Ames Tribune, Iowa