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Iowa university presidents pitch higher budgetary needs at hearing in Des Moines

Harreld says he wants to spend money on upping teacher compensation, Leath asks for more funds to deal with ISU's growth

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Last year, in the face a proposed funding change that would have rewarded Iowa’s public universities for enrolling more residents, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced a goal of adding 5,000 students over the next five years.

But new UI President Bruce Harreld on Tuesday told Gov. Terry Branstad he’s not worried about growing the student body. He said he instead wants to recruit more faculty toward the goal of producing an excellent academic experience for those students already in the classrooms.

“I don’t think growth is a strategy,” Harreld said during a budget hearing at the State Capitol, marking his first presentation to the governor since taking office Nov. 2.

“I think excellence is a strategy for the University of Iowa,” he said. “We are quite comfortable where we are, but it’s about what’s going on in the classrooms.”

Presidents of all three public universities in Iowa — and its special schools — spoke during Tuesday’s hearing, formally presenting their state appropriations requests to the governor and explaining how they would use the money.

Harreld maintained his previously reported appeal for $4.5 million in operating appropriations, saying again that he would put it toward faculty salaries and making them more competitive nationally.

“We are on fire,” Harreld said, referring to how far UI faculty salaries have slipped in national rankings.

In 2004, UI faculty compensation ranked No. 77 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. In the 2016 rankings, UI faculty salaries ranked 103, Harreld said.

“We lost 26 ranks,” he said, adding, “We are being raided.”

He said dismal compensation, comparatively, has prompted top educators to leave for other institutions.

“What’s happening here is the other schools are ramping up, particularly in STEM, and we actually are losing a lot of people and being picked off,” he said.

Of the UI faculty in the 2014 budget year, according to a recent regent report, 40.6 percent were tenured. Two years earlier, the percentage of UI faculty with tenure was nearly 43 percent, according to the report. When looking at UI student credit hours by faculty level, 36.5 percent were taught by tenured professors in 2014, compared to nearly 40 percent in 2012, according to recent regent report.

“So this entire 4.5 million we’re asking for is going to go right up against fixing the faculty compensation deficiencies we have in a number of colleges,” he said. “And, secondly, [it is going] toward the recruiting of higher talent faculty.”

Harreld also stressed the need to support faculty in their research endeavors, and he asked for a conversation about the “rules of engagement” around regional centers like the one UI plans to operate on the AIB College of Business campus in Des Moines once it closes next summer.

UI is planning to offer several degree programs on that campus right away, and Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa also could use the campus for potential programming.

“That is a wonderful example of what we could do,” Harreld said. “Where else should we be offering these programs and centers?”

UNI is requesting a $7.7 million bump in state appropriations next year, in part, due to its high percentage of Iowa residents who pay lower tuition rates than out-of-state students.

UNI President Bill Ruud on Tuesday told the governor his institution this fall actually saw its percentage of Iowa residents drop slightly from 90 percent to 88 percent. That, he said, “obviously has added some money to the bottom line.”

And Iowa State President Steven Leath pointed to his school’s surging enrollment in his request for an additional $8.2 million in general operating support for the next budget year.

“The truth of the matter is we are kind of getting to a tipping point,” Leath said.

Iowa State has seen seven straight years of record enrollment, an increase of nearly 40 percent over the past decade — from 25,741 in 2005 to 36,001 this fall.

“That’s a lot more students,” he said, commenting on the high number of Iowa residents in those totals. “That does make a more difficult budget model for us.”

Even as the student body has swelled, faculty hiring has not kept up, and Leath said something has to give. ISU’s faculty-student ratio stands at 19 to 1 — the highest among Iowa’s regent universities. Leath said the institution has hired 340 faculty members over the past three years.

“And we have not moved the needle at all because of student growth,” he said.

To reach its student-faculty ratio goal of 16 to 1, Leath said, Iowa State would need to hire another 300 faculty members this year without growing.

He said that’s unlikely.

“Our enrollment numbers, though early, are running ahead again this year,” he said, “which makes me nervous.”

Leath said his first choice would be to receive full funding from the state to support the swelling number of ISU students, but he acknowledged state budget constraints. And, he said, if lawmakers don’t come through with Iowa State’s full request, his staff is mulling other options like crafting stiffer admission standards, higher tuition rates for students in programs that cost more, and pulling back on recruiting.

“We have not spent any more money on recruiting,” he said. “But we might even withdraw some.”

Iowa State already is proposing a differential tuition rate for its international students that the Board of Regents will consider Wednesday during its monthly meeting. The ISU proposal is to charge both new and current international students $1,500 more in tuition over the next three years.

“We are considering expanding” those types of differential tuition options, Leath said.

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