New state money still leaves regent campuses behind

Proposal divvies up money but commits it all to financial aid

(File photo) Curtiss Hall (left) and the Campanile (right) on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 3
(File photo) Curtiss Hall (left) and the Campanile (right) on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University each will add $3.15 million — and the University of Northern Iowa, $2 million — to their funds for awarding undergraduate financial aid in the new academic year, according to documents released Tuesday.

The help approved by the Iowa Legislature earlier this year is less than the $12 million the Board of Regents pressed for and does not nearly make up for other budget cuts lawmakers also made to Iowa’s two largest public universities, the UI and ISU.

If the board votes next week for the plan outlined in the documents, the total undergraduate financial aid the universities offer would increase only about 3.1 percent over the 2016-17 level.

The additional $3.15 million the UI and ISU each will get from the state after July 1 does not make up for the $5.5 million and $5.4 million the universities lost, respectively, to midyear cuts in their current budgets. The budget for UNI did not take a midyear cut.

All that means that even with the $8.3 million boost, the board sits $14.6 million below where it wanted to be for the new budget year.

This year’s cuts followed a painful legislative session, where lawmakers for the second year in the row took back money they already had appropriated for state agencies after the state’s tax receipts did not keep pace with projections.

Still, according to a proposal scheduled for Board of Regents consideration next week, the universities remain committed to putting all $8.3 million of the additional state support for 2019 toward resident undergraduate financial aid.

Officials have stressed a growing need to help students in the face of rising tuition — another topic the board is scheduled to consider.

The board will be asked to give its final approval for another increase, this one bumping up resident undergraduate rates 3.8 percent at the UI and ISU and 2.8 percent at UNI.

Costs for other types of students — such as nonresidents, graduate students and those in programs costlier to provide — also will increase across the campuses.

For a resident undergrad, the increases — if approved — will push tuition to $7,770 a year at the UI, $7,740 a year at ISU and $7,665 at UNI.

Although smaller percentage increases are proposed for non-resident students, the dollar amounts are larger, with non-resident UI students looking at a sticker price of $29,736, up $606.

Even before this year’s state funding request, Iowa’s public universities have upped financial aid offerings as they also have increased tuition.

The board recently reported its three institutions in the 2016-17 academic term combined for a total $265 million in undergraduate aid, up from $239 million.

Total financial aid for the three universities — including for graduate students — increased to $425 million last year, up from $391 million.

Federal increases have been more modest, and the state hasn’t budged from its $2.9 million commitment in total student financial aid for the regent universities.

University officials in recent weeks have taken steps to ensure students aren’t carrying the swelling fiscal burden alone.

Earlier this month, UI President Bruce Harreld announced a pay freeze for most faculty and staff until January, before finding out how much of the $8.3 million his institution might receive.

“Whatever the university’s portion, any potential increase will not be enough to offset last year’s rescission,” a message from the UI Office of Strategic Communications said.

By delaying most pay raises for six months, the university will buy itself time to evaluate tuition revenue from enrollment and any potential state budget cuts that could follow the December estimate of Iowa’s revenue.

The UI pay freeze won’t, however, encompass the entire campus.

For UI Health Care, according to proposal the board will consider, departments can give an average increase of up to 1 percent for faculty and non-organized staff based on “performance and available funding.”

Unionized staff also will get any raises called for in their contracts.

But all health care department chairs and senior leaders will forgo a July 1 raise.

UI Health Care acknowledged a nearly $7.2 million deficit at the start of the budget year. In records released Tuesday, it said it has reached savings of $50.7 million through April. More than half of its target savings are expected to come from labor costs.

Also to save money for now, the UI has put a five-month moratorium on new construction.

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