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Regents and university presidents decry slide in state funding

Regents and university presidents decry slide in state funding
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Iowa Board of Regents members, university presidents and students expressed concern about the state’s weakening support for higher education during the board’s meeting Thursday at Iowa School for the Deaf.

“Government leaders are not meeting the needs of public higher education in Iowa,” board member Larry McKibben said. “Our leaders are making cuts without thinking about the consequences. As an Iowan who has been educated in Iowa from kindergarten through law school, I am embarrassed right now. We are bleeding, and we are bleeding deeply now — and Iowans need to hear that.”

Since fiscal year 2001, state funding for Iowa State University has dropped by $35.4 million, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen told the board. Decreases included eight mid-year cuts, including the current one, of which Iowa State’s share was $5.4 million.

During the same period, enrollment at Iowa State has increased by 8,500 students, Wintersteen said. Enrollment at Iowa State is currently 36,321, which includes almost 20,000 Iowans.

Resident undergraduate tuition has remained unchanged for seven of the past 12 semesters in an effort to keep the cost of attending ISU affordable, she said. However, the resident undergraduate rate is a discounted rate and does not cover the cost of instruction. At one time, state funding made up the difference.

“We want to keep higher education accessible and affordable,” board President Michael Richards said. “We want to provide high-value education to our students. The importance of our Regents institutions educating our students has never been higher. Our Regents institutions are a primary driver of Iowa’s economy.”

“State support has decreased by millions since I came on the board” three years ago, board member Rachael Johnson said. “Higher education must be a priority in our state. If higher education does not become a priority throughout the state, Iowa will fall behind and become less competitive.

“We all play a part in changing the dialogue surrounding our Regents universities,” Johnson said.

The board is expected to approve tuition increases for the 2018-19 school year for all three Regents universities at its June meeting. The proposal given a first reading at its April meeting calls for 3.8 percent hikes in the resident undergraduate tuition rates at Iowa and Iowa State and a 2.8 percent boost at University of Northern Iowa.

At Iowa State, the foundation will also provide $500,000 in services, and the athletic system will transfer $1 million for degree completion grants through the financial aid office.

For the longer term, Iowa State has developed a proposal for a differential tuition system in which programs with higher costs, such as science and engineering, would carry higher tuition rates, Wintersteen said. After ISU deans held 30 meetings with different student groups, the administration believes students understand the need for the higher rates.

“We’re very confident that these students will not be deterred by these differential tuition rates,” she said.

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The University of Northern Iowa will push to attract more students from outside the state and focus on quality and affordability with its programs, President Mark Nook said. UNI also plans to request another $2 million from the Legislature. The money would be invested in campus infrastructure, need-based financial aid, advising services and to identify savings possibilities.

“Without $2 million in state funding, it will affect quality,” he said.

UNI has not been increasing its budget in recent years except to keep up with inflation, Nook said.

“That’s an extremely conservative approach for a university to take,” he said.

The University of Iowa will adopt a new budget model based on collegiate economic analysis, President Bruce Harreld said. The administration will draw on input from colleges and departments to identify opportunities for savings. The university will also reduce activities and shut down some programs and centers.

“We need more revenue for University of Iowa to attract the best and the brightest,” he said. “Other states are out-funding us. If all we wanted was to compete at the national average, the efforts of those that came before us would have been made in vain.”

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