Higher education

Iowa's public universities facing another $5.1 million cut

Community colleges being asked to trim $1.8 million

A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazett
A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

After taking back $20.8 million in state appropriations from the Board of Regents in the 2017 budget year and then nearly $10 million for the 2018 budget year that started July 1, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday recommended slashing the regents’ current budget again by another $5.13 million.

That reduction would bring state support for the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa’s three public universities and two special schools, from $565.4 million in the 2018 budget year to $560.2 million, according to a legislative analysis.

The cuts, which are only recommendations and must be approved by lawmakers, come in response to a state budget shortfall of about $35 million, and they add to the more than $30 million in base funding reductions the Board of Regents has absorbed since the last legislative session.

At the start of the 2017 budget year, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa collectively were promised $513.7 million in general education appropriations. Cuts during the last session, combined with Gov. Reynolds proposed cuts Tuesday, would drop that total to nearly $479 million.

For the 2019 budget year, the governor has proposed a total Board of Regents funding increase of $7.3 million — below the board’s $12 million request.

But if lawmakers take Reynolds’ suggestions, total regents funding would increase $2.4 million above the fiscal 2018 base funding total — before the proposed $5.1 million cut.

The Board of Regents didn’t release details of how any new money might be distributed. It had planned to divide its requested $12 million by giving $5 million each to the UI and ISU and $2 million to UNI, all of which would go toward student financial aid.


As for the cuts, the regents aim to hold UNI and its two special schools harmless, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

The governor’s proposal suggests taking $2.4 million from UI’s general education fund and $1.9 million from ISU’s general education pot — with smaller decreases coming in other areas, like UI’s Oakdale campus and Iowa State’s agricultural experiment station.

“Any reduction is challenging, but the board recognizes the current fiscal situation the state is facing,” Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement, which also thanked the governor for her support of higher education and the proposed increase in 2019.

“We will work with our institutions to make any required FY18 reductions in ways that have as little impact on students as possible, Braun added.

Reynolds also proposed cutting Iowa’s community college funding by $1.8 million in the current 2018 budget year. When combined with a proposed $3 million bump for 2019, the state’s 15 community college could be looking to split a net $1.2 million increase.

With lawmakers now slated to review the budget recommendations and make decisions, state Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said proposed “increases for public education are so inadequate.”

“That’s going to be a real challenge,” she said. “More cuts in education results in more tuition for our higher ed students, who are in community colleges and our regent schools. To me, that’s a non-starter.”

The University of Iowa and Iowa State have proposed five years of 7 percent annual tuition increases for resident undergraduates if lawmakers don’t increase funding. UNI has proposed an annualized increase of 5 percent for that same group of students under those same conditions.

It’s unclear what a small increase might mean for the tuition proposals.


But some regents, lawmakers and students have criticized proposed rate hikes as too steep, and the board has postponed until June its final decision on tuition for the 2018-19 school year — which typically happens almost a year before the term for which they’re setting rates.

By waiting until June, regents likely will know how much to expect in state appropriations, helping them avoid changing previously-approved rates. A June approval, however, comes just two months before the start of the fall semester, giving students and families little time to plan.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, expressed concern about higher education funding, or lack thereof.

“We’re slowly strangling the public universities, the community colleges, and K-12,” he said.

New employees

But Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, during a briefing last week expressed doubt about the universities’ need for more money.

“I find it interesting that the Legislature continues to take a lot of pressure, that we’re the ones to blame and solely blamed for increases in tuition, when you see here that state government employees over the last several years decreased by 8.29 percent while the regents have had a 26 percent increase in employees while they only had a 12 percent enrollment growth,” Grassley said. “So I just want to be clear on that, that some of this is also decisions that the regents have made at their level as well.”

Colin Tadlock, communications director for the Iowa House Republicans, told The Gazette the regents have hired more than 7,000 new full-time employees since 2011.

“That number is much larger than I would have guessed it would have been at 26 percent,” Grassley said. “I think this question needs to be answered: how are you going to be able to justify, not only to the Legislature but parents, that all the (tuition) increases are because of the funding from the state level, however we’re not going to tell you that we have a 26-percent increase in the number of employees at our institutions. That’s a question that I think needs to be answered.”

Josh Lehman, spokesman for the Iowa Board of Regents, said of the 7,211 new employees noted by Grassley, only 1,454 are funded by general education funds from the state.


“This is a 14 percent increase in full-time-equivalent employees, which correspond to the 13 percent increase in student enrollment” from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2017, he said.

The remainder of the growth in new employees in that time span, he said, comes from:

l 2,141 employees as the result of patient growth at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, a 30 percent increase. UIHC is self-funded and receives no state appropriation or tuition revenue.

l The remainder — about 3,600 full-time-equivalent employees — reflect hiring in grant-funded research labs and self-funded athletics, utilities and residence hall programs. Those programs, he said, receive no state appropriations or tuition funding and reflect the addition of four new residence halls at the universities since 2011.

He also noted the three state universities employed approximately 21,600 students in fiscal year 2017 — 15 percent more than in fiscal 2011, “which also correlates to the enrollment growth” in those years.

University presidents previously have told lawmakers that enrollment increases paired with state funding cuts and frozen tuition rates — making them the cheapest among their peers — have stretched faculty too thin with too little compensation, leaving the institutions unable to compete for top professors and researchers and threatening the quality of the education they provide.

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