Iowa universities outline massive budget cuts

Tuition revenue hits projected to be the biggest loss

(Gazette File Photo) Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames
(Gazette File Photo) Two students sit on the grass in front of Curtiss Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015.

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s three public universities expect to take a $53 million hit this budget year from tuition freezes and enrollment declines — and incur even more losses from cuts in state appropriations and research activity.

In all, the universities project to generate $65.4 million less this budget year than last due to the COVID-19-driven losses.

The anticipated enrollment drops, coupled with an earlier decision to freeze tuition rates, is expected to shrink income by $14.8 million at the University of Iowa; $33.4 million at Iowa State University; and $4.8 million at the University of Northern Iowa.

The three institutions also must split an $8 million cut in state appropriations — divided about 40-40-20 percent between the campuses, with UI and ISU each losing $3.2 million in state support and the smaller UNI losing $1.5 million.

The reductions approved by lawmakers affect every special purpose unit across the campuses except the UI-based State Hygienic Lab, which received a $525,578 boost in the budget year that just ended for its work processing COVID-19 tests. Although the lab was spared state cuts in the new budget that began July 1, it’s not getting any increased, either.

In outlining their new budgets, each university highlighted the pandemic that’s created unprecedented challenges across their campuses — which essentially shut down mid-March, forcing instruction online.

In looking to reopen to in-person classed this fall, the campuses expect “significant” costs in providing enough protective gear, sanitization supplies, physical barriers and cleaning services.


Due to the tens of millions each campus already expected to lose from COVID-19, the schools have launched cost-cutting measures that include layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions and curtailed programs.

UI President Bruce Harreld has volunteered a 50-percent cut from his $590,000 base pay for the rest of the year, amounting to a one-time savings of $270,416; ISU President Wendy Wintersteen is taking a 10-percent cut for the budget year, amounting to $59,000; and UNI President Mark Nook is taking an 11.8-percent cut to his $357,110 salary, amounting to $42,138.

Nook also will take a 50-percent cut in deferred compensation. The other presidents have not announced changes in their deferred compensation plans, which are due for 2023 payouts of $2.33 million to Harreld and over $1 million to Wintersteen.

Other Cutting

Other cost-cutting measures underway across the universities include 5-percent pay cuts for all vice presidents at UNI.

The UI is phasing out funding for Hancher Auditorium, requiring the venue to become self-sufficient; imposing hiring and salary freezes; and laying off instructors in some units.

“The university will continue to use the budget model to identify, evaluate and possibly discontinue or close activities in which state resources are no longer sufficient to support these functions,” according to a UI report to the Board of Regents. “Scarce resources will continue to be directed to student success, research, and economic development programs.”

At ISU, the administration is shaving 2 percent from its employee retirement match; temporarily freezing most renovation and capital projects; and requiring vice president or presidential approval to fill vacancies — in addition to across-the-board budget reductions.

ISU also is rolling out a “voluntary retirement incentive” available to about 1,200 faculty and staff. Savings will depend on the number of approved participants, according to the regents, who were asked to approve incentive program at a meeting next week.

The regents are eliminating immediately their $873,940 in support for Iowa Public Radio. The public broadcaster also is projecting decreases in “fundraising revenue from memberships, underwriting and events due to anticipated economic issues related to the pandemic and no scheduled, revenue-generating events.”


When regents during their meeting this Wednesday consider approving these cuts and the universities’ pared down budgets, they won’t include athletics projections — which they typically do.

“Due to the volatility of the fall sports schedules resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the detailed athletic budgets will be considered for board approval at its September meeting,” board documents say.

Dorm reductions

Among the self-supporting enterprises across the campuses are the residence systems at UI and ISU — both of which are bracing for budgetary losses this year, with fewer students expected to live on campus in the fall and having no summer revenue.

At UI, anticipated occupancy has been reduced from 6,225 to 5,700. Total revenue projections have dropped nearly $8 million and its total fund balance projections have dropped $12.7 million.

ISU has reduced its occupancy from 10,238 to 9,464, with revenue expected to fall $7.7 million. The Linden and Oak Elm halls will be reserved for in-system students needing isolation and quarantine housing, according to the budget documents.

ISU’s residence system reserve funds are projected to increase “due to the cancellation of previously planned improvement projects.”

And although UNI’s residence system is not projecting as many losses, it’s looking at nearly 200 fewer students.

Veterinary Lab Cuts

ISU took exception to a $62,472 cut to its Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which it touts as protecting animal and human health and advancing Iowa’s $32.5 billion animal agriculture economy. The cuts, according to the documents, come amid soaring demand for the lab’s diagnostic services and as it is being asked to “commit substantial resources” to the State Hygienic Laboratory for COVID-19 testing.

“Cuts to the (lab) line will substantially weaken the ability to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks in the Iowa livestock and poultry industry and it will weaken the state’s ability to respond to COVID-19,” the documents state.

The ISU lab’s caseload is the largest of any like it in the country.

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