IOWA LEGISLATURE

Lawmakers seek more say in University of Iowa medical, dental college enrollment

Bills seek more evidence of regent benefits to the state

The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s public universities for years have touted the billions they bring to the state through research and innovation; student, visitor and alumni spending; new jobs; and inbound migration — citing those boons in seeking improved state support.

But the Legislature has continued to cut appropriations and, with campus leaders again re-upping pleas for more money, GOP lawmakers this session are seeking more evidence and oversight of the Board of Regents’ boasts through proposed legislation.

One proposal would require university faculty to “conspicuously” disclose sponsors for externally supported or funded research. Another study bill would impose stricter medical and dental college admission rules — like requiring at least 75 percent of accepted students come from Iowa or be enrolled in an Iowa institution before applying to the UI College of Medicine or Dentistry.

The bills come after Republican lawmakers recently aired grievances and concerns over how the universities are spending taxpayer dollars and whether the campuses are producing the benefits for Iowans they purport.

Legislators this session again have proposed measures to eliminate tenure — giving the campuses more freedom to fire “bad” professors. They’ve demanded more accountability on free speech actions, specifically those affecting conservative voices.

“Your goal as universities is education, not indoctrination,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said during a government oversight hearing last week — flagging broader concerns about Iowa’s public higher education.

According to House Study Bill 168, which ups Legislative oversight of the University of Iowa’s medical and dentistry college admissions, the schools would not only be required to get three-fourths of their students from Iowa but report back annually on where the graduates go after they leave.

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The bill seeks post-graduation details for “graduates of the colleges of dentistry and medicine and UIHC residency programs post-graduation and medical residency.”

The new reports required by the bill would detail which states graduates and medical residents moved to in their first year after graduation or after residency, and they would disclose whether graduates or residents were Iowans when admitted, plus their areas of specialty.

“The information shall be divided by residents of Iowa at the time of application to the college and nonresidents at the time of application to the college.”

The UI College of Medicine’s 2020 entering class profile has 147 in the general MD program — 70 percent of whom are Iowa residents. The class has another five in the UI “Medical Scientist Training Program,” which “does not have a residency requirement.”

When looking at the UI medical college’s total enrollment in fall 2020, 55 percent of its graduate students were residents; 66 percent of its professional students were Iowans; and 88 percent of its postgraduate students were residents.

The UI College of Dentistry reported 67 percent of its 2020 entering class of 82 were Iowans. The breakdown was similar for the college’s total graduate and professional enrollment in fall 2020 — with 229 of its total 346 students coming from Iowa, or about 66 percent.

In a November 2019 economic impact report, Iowa’s Board of Regents reported about 40 percent of students attending its universities came from out of state in the 2018 budget year — including many who relocated to Iowa to take classes.

“These students may not have come to the state if the universities did not exist,” according to the report. “In addition, some in-state students, referred to as retained students, would have left Iowa if not for the existence of Iowa’s regent universities.”

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Calculating the impact of those students’ spending on groceries, transportation, household items, and other accommodations, the regent report estimates student spending generated $232.9 million “in added income for the state economy in FY 2017-18, which supported 5,485 jobs in Iowa.”

Research oversight

That regent study also reported its campuses over the past four years had received 1,126 invention disclosures, filed 460 new patent applications, and produced 527 licenses. Total license income over that period swelled from $4.7 million in fiscal 2015 to $6.1 million 2018.

“In FY 2017-18, the universities spent $411.5 million on payroll to support research activities,” according to the report. “This, along with $465.3 million in other research spending, created a net total of $730 million in added income for the state economy.”

But lawmakers are seeking more oversight of that research activity through legislation requiring any public college or university in Iowa to “conspicuously disclose” the identity of any sponsor of research “in any public communication relating to the results of such research.”

Currently, the UI Division of Sponsored Programs — which supports research agreements between UI and outside entities — has rules for “nondisclosure agreements,” which are binding contracts “to safeguard the release or exchange of confidential information.”

To the question of why a researcher would need such an agreement, UI officials on the sponsored programs website note, “companies will not send the (principle investigator) a study protocol and other information about starting a clinical trial unless there is a contract in place in which we promise to keep the information they send us confidential.”

The bill is not explicit about how it would affect current operations, and Board of Regents officials told The Gazette the information the bill seeks “is reported to the board.”

“We adhere to all grant and contract requirements, regardless of where they come from,” according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

Regent lobbyists have not taken a position for or against either new bill.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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