Education

Governor recommends fulfilling public universities funding ask

Regents: 'We are extremely pleased'

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

For the first time in a couple challenging years scarred by midyear funding cuts, de-appropriations, and below-par appropriations, Iowa’s governor is recommending the state’s public universities receive all the money they’re requesting for the next budget year.

The Board of Regents earlier this fall requested an $18 million bump in general education support for University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. The schools proposed splitting the total $7 million both to UI and ISU and $4 million to UNI.

All three vowed to use the funds — if allocated — for student financial aid.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday unveiled a budget proposal that boosted general education support for each of those universities by the exact amount they requested — bucking a trend of lesser support or even disinvestment that has plagued the board in recent years.

“We are extremely pleased that the governor has recommended fully funding our universities’ general operating request of $18 million,” Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement. “With this level of funding, our universities can continue to provide the accessible, top-quality education that Iowa students deserve.”

Should lawmakers, who must come up with their own budget proposal, take Reynolds’ recommendation, regents have vowed to keep next year’s tuition increases for resident undergraduates to 3 percent. If the state rejects Reynolds’ recommendation and falls short of the board’s requested bump, the universities have said they’ll hike tuition further to make up the difference they say is needed to achieve their strategic goals — including decreasing student debt and increasing enrollment among first-generation and minority students.

“The State of Iowa has no financial aid funding designated solely for students attending Iowa’s public universities,” according to the board’s funding request in September. “When comparing states by the percent of need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions, Iowa is last in the country.”

Regardless of state support, UI and ISU administrators have advocated for the need to increase tuition — which, at least for resident undergraduate students, was frozen for several years. Now, considering the universities charge far less than their peers and have suffered recent cuts, they have a dire revenue need and plenty of rate-hike space before losing their competitive edge.

UNI, on the other hand, is hoping to keep its costs down, as it already charges on par with peers and needs to maintain an advantage. Because most of its students come from within Iowa, meaning they pay less in tuition, state aid is even more paramount in the school’s success.

“The conversation about differential tuition rates for UNI, to make it more competitive, that makes a lot of sense,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, recently told The Gazette. “It’s about making sure these institutions are great and have great people at them.”

Before an $8.3 million appropriations bump for the current budget year that began July 1, the regents had lost more than $40 million in state support since the start of the 2017 budget year.

The board also annually requests new money for special programs and projects, and Reynolds recommended fulfilling many of those requests for next year as well — although not all of them or to the degree the regents hoped.

For example, the ISU-housed Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory — which processes more than 80,000 cases from livestock and poultry producers and pet owners across the state and nation — received $4.1 million in state support this year and asked for a bump to $4.5 million next year.

Reynolds suggested keeping the lab at $4.1 million, although she did include in her proposal $12.5 million toward a new 80,000-some-square-foot lab in each of the next five years — in addition to the $1 million granted that project in the current year.

That brings the state’s commitment to the project to $63.5 million, with the balance of the $75 million total coming from private gifts and university funds. The project original was slated to be bigger — costing $124 million for a 150,000-square-foot stand-alone lab.

But the Legislature’s lesser commitment prompted Iowa State to scale it down.

As for other parts of the Board of Regents’ budget request, Reynolds is recommending status quo funding for the board office — per the regents’ request — and status quo funding for Iowa Public Radio, which the regents oversee, even though the program asked for an increase.

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

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