Education

Iowa Regents asking state to restore $8 million cut, plus $18 million general fund boost

'State appropriations are one of two primary sources of core operating funds'

A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After lawmakers this summer cut $8 million in state aid from Iowa’s public universities, the Board of Regents is planning to request it back — as well as $18 million more in general education support as part of an overall $29.3 million bump for the next budget year.

Should lawmakers restore the cut and then bolster the campuses’ general education pots by $18 million — plus other ancillary increases — regent appropriations would increase from $613.6 to $642.9 million.

Under the proposed request, which regents next week will vote on making to the state, the $18 million increase would be split $7 million each to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, and $4 million to the smaller University of Northern Iowa.

The proposed increases come as Iowa’s public and private colleges and universities — like most nationally — grapple with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that has hamstrung their ability to provide a traditional college experience, curtailed enrollment and tuition revenue, and aggravated the already dwindling pool of prospective students.

In consideration of financial hardships facing students and their families who might have lost a job due to COVID-19, Iowa’s regents this summer agreed to freeze tuition rates for fall — even though they had planned to incrementally increase them annually at the UI and ISU. Regents have not voted on setting future tuition rates.

“State appropriations are one of two primary sources of core operating funds supporting higher education,” according to board documents made public Tuesday for the fiscal 2022 request.

“State funding levels for higher education remain significantly less than FY 2009 amounts,” the report said. “Looking farther back, higher education appropriations for FY 2021 are $63 million less than in FY 2001.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The regent request reported that “years of declining state appropriations” have created “significant resource constraints and hampered attempts to provide predictability.”

“The incremental funding would be dedicated to support student financial aid, equipping additional classrooms for both local and distant online/hybrid two-way teaching environments, and for costs associated with making additional classes/programs online capable.”

The acceleration of virtual programming across Iowa’s public universities — and the ongoing demand for it — has created new expenses, according to the request.

“The pandemic dictated that the institutions analyze and assess the effectiveness of existing technologies and make rapid adjustments; some of these adjustments were temporary and not ideal for sustained online teaching,” according to regent documents. “The nature of the various course offerings may alter the equipment necessary and thereby the cost of necessary equipment.

“This may include screen captures, document cameras, white board capture, microphones and other media devices. Other cost considerations include software licenses and contractor installation.”

In a “non-appropriations request,” the board also asked for “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 a critical state or Regent strategic purpose.”

If the request is approved by the board, it will go before the Iowa Legislature next year for consideration. Fiscal 2022 begins July 1, 2021.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.