Education

Iowa regents ask for $20 million state funding bump

Universities vow to use it on financial aid

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

IOWA CITY — With its state support about $35 million less than at the start of the 2017 budget year — thanks, in part, to consecutive midyear budget cuts — Iowa’s Board of Regents will ask lawmakers to start correcting that decline with a $20 million bump next year.

At next week’s board meeting at the University of Iowa, regents will consider approving a proposed $628.42 million budget for fiscal 2020, including $499 million specifically for general higher education use — along with millions more for special purposes, special schools and economic development and agricultural endeavors.

That $499 million would represent an $18 million increase over the $481 million in higher education appropriations the state approved for regent universities in the current budget year. That $481 million is below the $483 million the state provided in the last budget year, and it sits well below the $513.7 promised at the start of the 2017 budget year.

The Board of Regents office notes in its new budget proposal that state support for public higher education remains “significantly less” than in the 2009 budget year a decade ago — while enrollment continues to climb.

“Looking farther back, higher education appropriations for FY 2019 are $68 million less than in FY 2001,” according to regents documents made public Tuesday.

All three of Iowa’s public university presidents have sounded alarms over the state’s disinvestment in public higher education while legislators dealt with state budget shortfalls.

All of the presidents have taken steps to absorb cuts. The UI, for example, has dropped some scholarship programs, frozen faculty pay and further delayed deferred maintenance — while over the summer halting all new construction on campus and announcing plans to close seven state-supported centers.

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All three universities upped tuition rates this fall for all types of students, including resident undergraduates. And they’ve indicated students should expect continued increases.

Although the new budget documents highlight a need for support from all sources — including outside funding — they note “the two key resources components are state appropriations and tuition revenue.”

Still, in light of state revenue shortfalls in recent years and continued concerns, a $20 million boost is a long shot — as it represents a 3.3 percent increase over the current budget year. Last year’s unfulfilled request was for a 2.6 percent increase, and the appeal the year before was for about 2 percent more.

The universities, in making a request last year for another $12 million in general education support, promised to use it all on financial aid for in-state undergraduate students. The board is making the same promise again this time.

“When comparing states by the percent of need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions, Iowa is last in the country,” the documents say. “Moving up one spot would require more than $20 million dedicated to the students attending Iowa’s public universities.”

As part of its budget appeal — and scramble to secure its financial footing — the Board of Regents also is seeking a “non-appropriations request” in the form of “relief from statutory and administrative state mandates that demonstrably impede the regents’ flexibility in governance, require unnecessary staff work, or require significant reporting which no longer serves as critical state or regent strategic purpose.”

Board documents didn’t specify the desired relief, but note such changes would help universities meet state demands they seek collaboration and partnerships with “other sectors of state government that result in improved productivity, more effective stewardship of state resources and enhanced economic development opportunities for Iowa’s citizens.”

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

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