UI, ISU presidents lament latest budget cuts

'It is time for our university to stop just 'hanging on'

The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa State University and University of Iowa are poised to take the brunt of late-year funding cuts meant to balance the state budget, creating “an especially difficult situation,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said in a message to campus Thursday.

UI President Bruce Harreld likewise sent a message to his campus decrying the $11 million takeback of state appropriated resources for the current budget year, which ends June 30, and said the loss “will require difficult choices” and possibly necessitate change across campus.

“This budget cut continues the generational disinvestment witnessed in public higher education over the last 20 years,” Harreld wrote Thursday, pointing to the reality that while the state budget has swelled by nearly $3 billion since 1998 and his university has added more than 5,000 students, state support for UI has dropped $7 million.

“What does this say about our state’s priorities?” he wrote in the campus message, which was signed by student, faculty, and administrative leaders across campus. “What does it say to our current students who, within the next four years, will choose whether to stay in Iowa or explore career options somewhere else?”

Lawmakers for months have been grappling with how to address a projected general fund shortfall — with Gov. Kim Reynolds suggesting a more meager regent cut of $5.1 million, and the House and Senate tossing out higher proposals, including one over $19 million.

This week, the GOP-led Iowa House and Iowa Senate approved a de-appropriations measure to cut $25 million in funding to state agencies and repurpose another $10 million in uncommitted gaming revenues that had been earmarked for economic development incentives.

The Board of Regents, according to the bill, will absorb the largest spending reduction — requiring Iowa State and UI to shave a total $11 million over the next three months. University of Northern Iowa was spared cuts, as that institution receives far less tuition from out-of-state students, who pay more than in-state students and cover the cost of their education.


Other departments facing late-year cuts include Human Services, with a $4.3 million reduction, the prison system, which is losing $3.4 million, and the court system, asked to pare back $1.6 million. Community colleges, under the proposal heading to the governor’s desk, would take a $500,000 hit.

The Board of Regents Office hasn’t yet decided how to divide the nearly $11 million in cuts between UI and Iowa State, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman. But, regardless of the split, the universities will be increasing tuition rates — including for residential undergraduates — and cutting costs.

At the University of Iowa, Harreld vowed to stay focused on “supporting the core mission of the university.” UI administrators, according to the campus message, have developed a process for handling funding cuts that uses models of each college’s economics and the shared services supporting them.

“Using this information, our deans, along with other key leaders across the university, will recommend steps for cutting expenses and increasing revenues in ways that respond to the legislature’s continued disinvestment without sacrificing our ability to fulfill the goals of our long-term strategic plan,” according to the message.

Harreld since arriving on campus in 2015 has pushed for better faculty pay in hopes of improving talent recruitment and retention, and he reiterated that pursuit Thursday — despite the looming reductions.

To do that, he wrote, the university “must increase its tuition.”

“Requesting a tuition increase from the Board of Regents is not an action that the university takes lightly,” he wrote. “However, it is now necessary in light of this continued generational disinvestment.”

Both UI and Iowa State over the summer told a Board of Regents tuition task force that no additional state support would require 7-percent tuition hikes for residential undergraduates every year for the next five years to achieve goals set out in their strategic plans.

The universities did not lay out scenarios for de-appropriations.

Community members and students voiced concern about such steep hikes, and Board of Regents President Mike Richards said any tuition hikes will be under 4 percent for the next school year — which begins in just five months.


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The board has delayed its approval of tuition rates for next year due to legislative funding unknowns. It still doesn’t know how much the state will appropriate for the 2019 budget year, which begins July 1. The board has requested $12 million — all of which would go toward student aid — and Gov. Reynolds has proposed giving them $7.3 million.

Regardless, the Board of Regents plans to hold a first of two readings on next year’s tuition rates at its April meeting.

In ISU President Wintersteen’s message Thursday, she too addressed the need for more tuition revenue in light of waning state support. Additional resources will need to be paired with campus cuts “while mitigating the impact on our teaching, research, and extension excellence, and critical student services,” she wrote.

She thanked the hundreds of thousands of ISU supporters who “advocated in strong opposition of midyear cuts.”

“Nearly 20,000 of Iowa State’s 36,000-plus students are Iowans, and many non-resident graduates stay here in Iowa,” according to her message. “Our supporters know these students are the future of this state and are well worth the state’s investment in their growth, education, and development.”

Both Iowa State and UI presidents vowed to remain resilient in the face of daunting blows, and UI President Harreld signaled the potential for change on campus.

“We have weathered this past 20 years of disinvestment by working together, but it is time for our university to stop just ‘hanging on,’” he wrote. “Let us all re-examine everything we do and agree to focus all of our resources to improve student success, research, scholarship, and economic development.”

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