Proposed higher ed budget would benefit University of Iowa the most

But Reynolds' plan raises the possibility of higher tuition hikes

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa next year would get a slightly bigger bump in general education funding than Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa if lawmakers adhere to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new funding suggestions for the fiscal 2021 budget.

Reynolds on Tuesday recommended a 3 percent increase in general education funding for the UI, ISU and UNI. Because the UI already gets more than the others, an across-the-board increase favors the Iowa City campus.

Under the proposal, the UI would get a $6.7 million increase; ISU would get $5.3 million more; and UNI would see $3 million more.

All those are below what the Iowa Board of Regents’ sought. The board asked the Legislature to approve $18 million more for general education in fiscal 2021 — which it then would split by giving $7 million each to the UI and ISU and $4 million to UNI.

If the Legislature fully funds the board’s request, despite the governor’s lower recommendation, the enterprise’s total general education state support would rise from $493 million to $511 million. If lawmakers take the governor’s suggestions, total general education support for the public universities would rise to $508 million.

Of course, lawmakers can go with a different amount — which they often do — and Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun stressed board leadership and university heads will work with the governor and legislators.

“We will continue to advocate for a level of funding that is needed to provide the first-class education that our students demand,” Braun said in a statement, thanking the governor for her “continued support for Iowa’s regent universities.”

“We will continue to be good stewards with funding that our universities receive.”


The regents in November 2018 debuted a five-year tuition model tying state support to tuition increases. Under the model, if lawmakers fully fund the board’s appropriations requests, tuition for resident undergraduates will increase 3 percent. If appropriations fall short of the requests, rates could go higher.

Because state appropriations for the UI and ISU below the board’s request in the current budget year, resident undergraduates at those institutions saw a 3.9 percent tuition increase in the fall. UNI, which saw its request fully funded this year, froze tuition for all students and would like to do so again — but officials have said they need the Legislature’s support.

For Iowa’s 15 community colleges, Reynolds’ proposed budget includes a $5.2 million general aid increase — amounting to a 2.5 percent bump to $213.9 million.

It’s unclear how that increase would be split among the campuses, and Kirkwood Community College spokesman Justin Hoehn said it’s too soon “to speculate about the impact of funding on the college.”

“We are pleased to see that the governor recognizes the need for increased education funding,” Hoehn said. “We are looking forward to working with the Legislature as they move through their budget procedure.”

The governor also proposed bolstering funding for programs that support community college students — like the Last Dollar Scholarship, which aids students enrolled in specific community and private college programs that lead to high-demand jobs.

Her budget proposes expanding the Last Dollar Scholarship fund by $2.8 million — bringing it to $15.8 million.

“Future Ready Iowa is working,” Reynolds said Tuesday in her Condition of the State address — referencing the initiative that spawned the Last Dollar Scholarship.


But Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, expressed concern that Reynolds failed to explicitly mention higher education funding in her annual address.

“There are some good things, I think, in the governor’s plan. Obviously I am concerned that there was no mention of the community colleges or regents and funding for those institutions, and our private colleges as well,” Mascher said. “Higher ed was just kind of left out, and that always concerns me … Funding for those institutions is really critical.”

Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he’d like to see the regents’ request fully funded — and he referenced the UI’s recent effort to generate revenue with public-private partnership to operate its utilities system.

In exchange for 50 years of stable revenue as operator of the $1 billion UI utilities enterprise, a private collaborative is paying the UI $1.165 billion up front, which the university plans to invest in an endowment it can pull from annually to support its mission and strategy.

“Adjusting for inflation, funding for our state schools has declined by over $200 million since 2001, from $793 million down to $576 million in FY2019,” Wahls said in an email. “It’s no wonder that tuition is rising for Iowa students and that our universities have been asked to pursue exotic privatization schemes. It’s especially concerning that even though the Board of Regents complied with the governor’s request to pursue (a public-private partnership), she has not honored the Board of Regents request for the $18M increase.”

In addition to Reynolds’ general education proposals for the public universities and community colleges, she offered recommendations for the regents’ special schools and special-purpose units — like the UI-affiliated Hygienic Laboratory, Iowa Flood Center and Oakdale campus.

She proposed mostly flat funding for those entities — with a few exceptions, like a $4 million earmark for an ISU-UI Bioscience Innovation Ecosystem collaboration, aimed at “accelerating the pace of economic development related to the biosciences.”

And Reynolds’ budget includes full funding for two capital projects at ISU and one at UNI — excluding the UI’s request.


The governor’s proposal for the 2021 budget year offers the full $10 million requested for ISU’s Student Innovation Center; the full $12.5 million for ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; and the full $1 million for UNI’s Industrial Technology Center modernization project.

She did not support funding the UI’s requested $3.4 million to modernize its historic Pentacrest — an $88.7 million project the campus wants the state to fully fund over five years.

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