Higher education

Branstad praises Iowa regents' two-year funding plan

'We're very appreciative and very supportive'

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad addresses employees at Timberline Manufacturing in Marion in November 2013. (Gazette file photo)
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad addresses employees at Timberline Manufacturing in Marion in November 2013. (Gazette file photo)

Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday praised the Board of Regents for its new two-year budgeting model, noting his push toward longer-term planning as well.

“We are all for the two-year budget,” Branstad told Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter during a presentation to the governor on the regent university budgets.

“And I want to compliment you on that,” Branstad said. “Because we’re going to submit a biennial budget that fits within the guidelines that the Iowa Taxpayers Association has recommended in terms of accurate budgeting … we think it gives stability and predictability.”

Since 2011, Branstad has presented two-year budgets annually, although he’s gotten some pushback from Democrats and could meet a more amendable Legislature this winter following the Republican takeover in last month’s election.

Earlier this year, the Board of Regents debuted a new “two-plus-two” plan that lays out two years of projected tuition increases for resident undergraduates and two years of state appropriation requests for its universities’ general education funds.

In each of the next two academic years, the board is planning to raise tuition for resident undergraduates 2 percent — a bump that doesn’t include potential increases for non-residents, graduate students, and those enrolled in high-cost programs.

The board plan also calls for requesting 2 percent more in state support for each of the next two budget years, although the board has said it will approve tuition and state funding requests one year at a time and could increase those figures in year two if Legislative funding falls short in the first year.

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The intention of the two-year plan, according to Rastetter, is to help students and families budget for the cost of college and give lawmakers foresight of the regents’ plans.

“We recognize the state doesn’t budget that way always, in terms of two-year budgets on education,” Rastetter said.

But Branstad said it’s actually “very consistent” with the direction he’s heading.

“We’re very appreciative and very supportive,” Branstad said, with the start of the upcoming Legislative Session just over a month away.

Rastetter called Branstad’s reaction to the regents’ budgeting model and requests “really positive.”

“We’ll see what state revenues are like as to whether that can be funded or not,” he said.

If the answer is “not,” Iowa State University President Steven Leath said his campus will continue to struggle to provide a quality education to a student population that has grown 40 percent since 2007. Already, Leath said, “We’re in a tough spot.”

During Tuesday’s presentation to the governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Leath showed a graphic indicating state appropriations have not kept pace with ISU enrollment.

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“This year, we’re receiving $3,300 less in state funds for each Iowa kid than we did eight years ago,” he said. “And that is huge, quite frankly. And we’re really struggling.”

Leath, like Rastetter, acknowledged the “economic realities we face as a state.”

“And we can only expect a reasonable level of increase from state appropriations,” he said. “But the reality is those increases we’re asking for are really critical.”

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld also highlighted the need for more state resources — stressing the Legislature’s partnership with the university and students in funding the institution. He said the university, in part through new efficiencies, is hoping to save or generate nearly $12 million more this budget year and beyond.

Proposed tuition and fee increases, which the Board of Regents is scheduled to approve at its Dec. 5 meeting, are expected to generate $16 million for UI, Harreld said. That leaves the 2 percent bump in state appropriations — equal to more than $4.6 million for the university.

“These resources are vital to our success,” Harreld said. “And we’re hopeful that the state will see a way to help us.”

The increase pool of revenue for UI will go toward student success and faculty recruitment and retention, according to Harreld.

Interim UNI President Jim Wohlpart said the boost in state funding — which for UNI includes a request for $2.5 million on top of the 2 percent hike — would be used to “change our business model.”

“We need to spend more time thinking about things like recruiting out-of-state students — that will get us the extra tuition that we need,” Wohlpart said. “This funding would be used for enrollment management, student engagement and success, faculty and staff vitality.”

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