Iowa House leader calls for change in UNI funding

About 90 percent of UNI students pay in-state tuition

Rather than an annual patch on the University of Northern Iowa’s appropriation from the Legislature, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, is calling on regents to make a “fairly substantial” alteration in the way state funds are distributed among three state universities.

With about 90 percent of its students paying in-state tuition, UNI has been impacted more than Iowa State University and University of Iowa by back-to-back in-state tuition freezes, Paulsen and other legislative leaders said Thursday. That was part of the reasoning behind UNI receiving additional funding from the state general fund for the past two years.

Two years ago, the Cedar Falls university asked lawmakers to increase its base funding by $4 million each year for three years. It received $4 million that year. Last year, UNI received a one-time $10 million appropriation to address concerns about the impact of previous budget cuts. The $10 million was not applied to UNI’s base budget, so it is not a long-term fix, according to the Board of Regents.

Gov. Terry Branstad has budgeted an additional $4 million for UNI in each of the next two fiscal years. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Thursday that in light of the impact caused by the tuition freezes that “makes some sense.”

It’s only a temporary fix, according to Paulsen, however.

“The concern is that if UNI continues to accept the crumbs from other two institutions, then that’s what they will get into perpetuity,” he said.

Paulsen called for regents to propose a change in the way general aid to the universities is distributed “that is helpful and makes a difference for UNI.”

“We’ve done this analysis,” he said. “The University of Iowa has over a half a billion dollars in cash and cash equivalents. The UNI has $27 million.”

Looking at per pupil funding – and Paulsen said he wasn’t suggesting the universities be funded on a per pupil basis, UI gets about $13,000 per student while UNI gets less than $8,000.

“That is a significant problem,” Paulsen said.

He’s told the regents that if they want all three universities treated all the same, the Legislature will treat them alike.

“We think they should be treated differently and we suggest (regents) come back to us with a way that changes the general aid distribution formula,” Paulsen said.

That’s one topic being considered by the regents’ performance-funding task force.