Gov. Kim Reynolds proposes raising public university funding $45 million over two years

Pitch falls shy of request, but finds Board of Regents' appreciation

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is applauded Tuesday at her Condition of the State address in the House chambers at the Iowa Capi
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is applauded Tuesday at her Condition of the State address in the House chambers at the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines. Her budget requests $15 million in the coming fiscal year for Iowa’s three public universities and $30 million the following year. But it’s up to lawmakers to decided on the level of support. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP)

The $15 million increase in state funding for Iowa’s three public being proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds falls short of what the universities were hoping for, but the Board of Regents is nonetheless appreciative.

Regents had asked for $26 million in restorative and general education funding both for the 2022 and 2023 budget years, amounting to $52 million over the next two years.

And while Reynolds didn’t meet those specific demands, she did propose doubling her $15 million bump in 2022 to a $30 million increase in 2023 — giving the public universities $45 million more than they have now.

“The Board of Regents is appreciative of Gov. Reynolds’ continued support for Iowa’s regent universities with her FY2022 budget recommendation,” according to a statement from Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun. “We will continue to be good stewards with funding that our universities receive.”

The Iowa Legislature rarely adopts the governor’s recommended regents funding.

Last year, for example, Reynolds suggested a $15 million increase, but lawmakers, in the wake of COVID-19, delivered an $8 million cut.

Acknowledging the legislative process has yet to unfold, Braun in his statement said, the board and university leaders “look forward to working with the governor and General Assembly during the legislative session.

“We will continue to advocate for the level of financial resources necessary to continue to provide the accessible, first-class education that our students deserve.”

Support falling

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have stressed the dire need for more state support — which has been waning — as competition surges for a shrinking pool of college-bound prospects, COVID-19 cramps campus operations, costs to support instruction and research rise, and students battling personal financial woes rebuff tuition hikes.

“State funding levels for higher education remain significantly less than FY 2009 amounts,” according to the board’s appropriations request for fiscal 2022. “Looking farther back, higher education appropriations for FY 2021 are $63 million less than in FY 2001.”

Tuition trigger

Regents recently adopted a five-year tuition model promising annual rate hikes at UI and Iowa State by at least 3 percent and possibly more if lawmakers don’t fully fund its requests.

Regents paused that model this academic year — given the pandemic and challenges it posed for students and the campuses’ inability to deliver a traditional college experience.

But the model will resume next fall, with the universities desperate for more resources.

“Driving additional resources to the classroom and overall student experience is critical to improving student outcomes,” according to the board’s appropriations request. “Years of declining state appropriations have resulted in significant resource constraints, and hampered attempts to provide predictability.”

And while the campuses have relied more heavily on tuition revenue over the years, that pot of resources is becoming less reliable — with enrollment, and thus tuition revenue, on the decline even before the pandemic,

Financial aid

Regent system student totals have been falling since fiscal 2016, with enrollment down 3.6 percent in fall 2019 and then another 4.4 percent at the start of this academic year — with the threat it will keep slipping as the pandemic drags on.

Should lawmakers get behind the board request and governor proposal to up regent appropriations, the universities have committed to use the money on student financial aid, additional classroom supports for virtual and hybrid teaching, and making more classes and programs “online capable.”

Some lawmakers are urging the universities — which moved a large number of courses online in the fall — to get back to in-person learning.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents who are paying the tuition for their child, or the child having to take out loans, who aren’t even given the opportunity to get the education that they expected from one of the regent schools,” Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, recently told reporters.

Referencing regent appropriations requests, Grassley said, “That reflects somewhat poorly when, as legislators, we hear from students and parents that they want their student in-person and they’re not even being given that as an option.

“So there is some frustration that exists heading into this legislative session.”

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