Education

University of Iowa sets record for money from external sources

ISU's total dips, but funds just for research at an all-time high

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — Thanks to more support from the U.S. Defense Department for projects aimed at helping military service members, the University of Iowa in fiscal 2019 recorded its highest-ever external funding total — an increasingly important metric as state funding for the institution shrinks proportionately.

The $588.8 million in external funding — including grants, contracts, gifts and agreements from federal, state and local governments, as well as private companies and foundations and universities — represents a 6 percent bump, or $34.7 million, over $554 million last year.

The new total for the budget year that ended June 30 included $466.9 million for research and scholarship alone, a 7 percent bump.

Iowa State University saw a dip in total external funding last fiscal year after setting records in 2017 and 2018.

The Ames campus attracted $469 million in total external funding for the 2019 budget year — 7.9 percent below last year’s highest-ever $509.2 million. ISU’s 2017 and 2018 record years benefited from the unusual gift to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of an equity stake, and a significant $50 million commitment to the Ivy College of Business.

ISU did report records in the breakdown of its external funding totals for 2019 — including the $260.9 million generated for research and related activities. That’s 3.3 percent over the previous record in 2016.

External funding has become increasingly important as the institutions battle to remain top-tier research and academic universities despite a drop in the proportion they receive from the Legislature for general education. The state provided 77 percent of the Board of Regents’ general education dollars in 1981. Today, it covers about 30 percent.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — including the National Institutes of Health — remains the UI’s strongest source of external funding, providing $196 million in 2019.

But the UI last year saw its biggest funding boost from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense, which tripled its support from $6.8 million to $20.8 million.

One $10 million award went to the UI Carver College of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and its aim to prevent, delay, or mitigate arthritis after joint injuries.

The orthopedics research could, among other things, help veterans. The type of arthritis being studied is the most common cause of permanent disability among military personnel, according to the UI.

UI chemistry professor Ned Bowden’s pursuit of a new fertilizer to improve corn and soybean yields contributed to the uptick in National Science Foundation funding, which nearly doubled to $14.8 million.

Bowden’s team, receiving $750,000 from the foundation, intends to launch a startup company to commercialize the new fertilizer.

A recently-announced $115 million NASA award to Iowa physicist Craig Kletzing, which marks the largest externally-funded research project in UI history, is not included in the latest numbers. Administrators expect to receive some portion of Kletzing’s grant during the 2020 budget year, which will be reflected in next summer’s report.

ISU’s record research funding supported more than 1,300 projects — including those studying structural biology at the molecular level, developing a nanovaccine for the flu, identifying catalysts for bio renewable chemicals and using data to inform policy about child care and education.

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

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