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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa’s Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved, without discussion, a request for $20.3 million more in state funding for the next budget year, including the first increase in five years for University of Iowa special purpose units like the State Hygienic Lab and Iowa Flood Center.
The $1 million increase the UI is seeking for both its State Hygienic Lab — which has been paramount in Iowa’s COVID response — and its Oakdale Campus, which promotes economic development and research, amount to the biggest appropriation asks for those entities in recent history.
If granted, a $1 million increase for the State Hygienic Lab would increase its $4.8 million budget 21 percent. A $1 million increase for the Oakdale campus would amount to a 48 percent spike in its $2.1 million budget.
The request for $500,000 increases for both the UI-based Iowa Flood Center and Family Practice Program also would equate to the largest hikes in recent history. The requests would increase the Flood Center budget 43 percent and the Family Practice Program budget 29 percent.
That $3 million requested increase for special purpose units — combined with a request for $4 million more in general university appropriations — brings the UI’s total legislative ask to $7 million more in the next budget year.
That’s on par with Iowa State’s appropriations increase request.
The University of Northern Iowa is seeking another $4 million in general appropriations — plus $1.6 million to solidify its partnership with the Des Moines Area Community College urban campus through student scholarships.
If lawmakers grant the regents’ full request, including another $20.3 million in education appropriations, the state’s funding for Iowa’s three public universities would increase to $638.6 million in fiscal 2023.
Five years ago, before recent cuts, state appropriations for the regents totaled $643.8 million. A decade ago the board’s requested appropriation hike — $41.1 million — was double the new request.
In justifying the requested increases, the presidents for Iowa’s public universities on Thursday told how they’d use the funds.
At the UI, President Barbara Wilson said the $4 million more in general education money would go directly into student success initiatives.
“We have a very exciting, metric-driven system now where we're tracking students across the semester, across the year, in terms of what they're doing, what they're engaged in, how often they visit various services,” Wilson said. “And we are responding to them in very personal ways when we know they need help so that we can increase our graduation and retention rates.”
The UI would invest its $4 million increase in things like advising and mental health services for students, she said.
‘How can we help state?’
The $3 million increase in special purpose funds, she said, would be geared more toward the university’s statewide mission.
“We're really thinking about how can we help the state?” Wilson said. “How can we move the state forward?”
Board documents break down the plans:
The Oakdale Campus has “significant building, utility, and maintenance costs” and most its 210,000 square feet is occupied by the State Hygienic Lab and other “specialized research facilities.”
An additional $1 million would go toward economic development activities on campus, according to board documents.
“The university, over the past two fiscal years, has created a pipeline of startup companies that have spent time on the Oakdale Campus,” the report said. “These companies have utilized the campus as a vehicle to build their ideas into operations that employ hundreds of Iowans.”
The State Hygienic Laboratory needs another $1 million for staff compensation, retention and recruitment, updated lab instruments, and insurance maintenance contracts for equipment.
“The onset of the pandemic and the need to retain staff and recruit additional talented analysts was never more apparent than throughout this pandemic when over 1 million COVID-19 specimens were tested by multiple methods,” according to the board report. “Salary increases are critical as the statistics show that the public health lab work force is aging and retiring with fewer new professionals seeking public health labs as a place of employment.”
Plus, the state lab faces “strong competition for staff who often find better paying positions within other state or local agencies or industries.”
The Iowa Flood Center provides “accurate, state-of-the-art, science-based information” to help reduce the risk of floods, which have had a massive adverse social and economic impact on the state.
“In the last 30 years, Iowa has received nearly 1,000 flood-related presidential disaster declarations, costing nearly $20 billion in property and crop losses,” according to regent documents, noting the increase would help the Flood Center, among other things, procure and develop top-notch diagnostic tools and support innovation.
The Family Practice Program, a legislative initiative to support community-based family medicine residency programs across Iowa, “is in jeopardy due to rising costs.”
Lawmakers over the last 20 years have cut the program’s funding by $740,000 — or 30 percent, according to the board.
“This decline in financial support has consequences as the programs have been unable to keep up with the rising costs, primarily related to malpractice costs, salaries and benefits,” according to the board report. “An example of the fragile nature of the family medicine residency programs is the closure of the Cedar Rapids Family Medicine Residency Program in July 2020.”
Programs in Waterloo and Sioux City also are at risk “and other programs are close behind.”
“Further, it is anticipated that MercyOne Des Moines will be joining the University of Iowa Affiliated Programs and this will redistribute the existing funds over more programs, reducing the amount of support to each program.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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