Education

University of Iowa reports drop in outside funding

Iowa State sets another record

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City.  (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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As Iowa’s public research universities look increasingly to outside support to accomplish their missions amid declining state appropriations and tightening belts, the University of Iowa is reporting a dip in external funding for the budget year that just ended.

Total UI external funding — including dollars accrued via research grants and philanthropic giving — dropped $3.7 million, from $557.7 million in the 2017 budget year to $554 million in the year that wrapped June 30.

When looking at research funding alone, UI support dropped from $443.3 million last year to $434.5 million.

Iowa State University, on the other hand, set another record with its external funding — marking the fourth straight record and inching it closer to UI in outside support. Iowa State attracted $509.2 million in total external funding in the 2018 budget year, up $5.6 million over the $503.6 million last year and up 38 percent from its $368.4 million five years ago.

In terms of just research funding, Iowa State generated $245.8 million, up $2.1 million over last year. Iowa State’s research funding record came in the 2016 budget year at $252.5 million.

External funding includes items such as grants, contracts, donations and agreements with federal, state and local governments, along with companies, not-for-profit entities and other universities collaborating on research, academic support and scholarships.

The universities have ramped up rhetoric around and reliance on external funding as state lawmakers have slashed the Board of Regents general education support more than $40 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.

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Lawmakers bumped up regent funding for the new budget year by $8.3 million — which wasn’t enough to make up for the $11 million cut they imposed in the middle of the 2018 budget year. In response, the universities have pushed off deferred maintenance and increased tuition.

On the UI campus, President Bruce Harreld has imposed a five-month moratorium on new construction, implemented a pay freeze and announced the closure of several centers.

In emphasizing “the urgency of finding fresh and innovative ways to support research and scholarship in a rapidly shifting academic and federal landscape,” UI officials just weeks ago announced plans to refocus the scope of the Office of the Vice President for Research when it hires its new head. That person will stay focused on research support, shifting economic development — formerly included in that office’s purview — elsewhere within the university.

New numbers made public this week exemplify declines in state support for the public universities, with the UI reporting $30.3 million in that category, down from $55.4 million last year.

“We suspect the decline in those numbers is related to a constricted state budget,” according to a UI spokesman Stephen Pradarelli. He noted the university’s IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering landed $11.8 million in 2017 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and various counties.

“This project is ongoing but no new funding was received (in fiscal year 2018),” he said.

Despite overall declines, the UI reported some bright spots — including a noteworthy bump in support from the federal government, which administrators feared would go the other direction after dips at both UI and ISU last year and previous recommendations from the Trump administration.

Where the UI amassed $224.4 million from federal sources for research and scholarship in the 2017 budget year — which was down from $240.3 million in 2016 — the most recent total has bounced back to $260.5 million.

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“The numbers are pretty remarkable given all of the challenges and pressures facing researchers and scholars and the University of Iowa these past few years,” Interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development John C. Keller said in a statement. “It’s a testament to the hard work of our faculty and staff, who are continuing to seek answers to the big questions across the disciplines, undaunted by our shifting fortunes.”

The university saw its biggest increase in federal research support from the National Institutes of Health, which granted UI medical and health care researchers 29 percent more in the most recent budget year, or about $40 million.

The UI Department of Physics and Astronomy also secured strong support from NASA in 2018, with $8.8 million, up from $6.3 million the previous year.

“It’s certainly more competitive than it was 25 to 30 years ago,” said UI physicist Craig Kletzing, who is leading a team that won $1.25 million from NASA to begin crafting a potential mission to study the interaction between the magnetic fields of the Sun and Earth.

If NASA likes the UI team’s proposal, it could bring in a total $165 million over the project’s life span, making it “the biggest thing we’re working on,” Kletzing said.

He noted his department has numerous other federal grants and contracts.

“We are continuing to be successful,” he said.

Helena Laroche, a UI assistant professor of internal medicine, is among the university’s NIH grant recipients in her and her team’s efforts to explore new intervention strategies for children of low-income and obese parents. This year’s installment of the five-year grant provides $706,958 for the collaboration involving the UI colleges of Public Health, Medicine, and Liberal Arts and Sciences.

As principal investigator, Laroche said, the $3.4 million grant in total is “amazing” in a particularly competitive landscape.

“I’ve put in all sorts of grants,” she said. “And for the money I’ve gotten, there’s been a lot I’ve put in that I haven’t gotten.”

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Iowa State also reported an increase in federal funding with $235.6 million — up over last year’s $218.9 million, which was down from the previous year’s total of $229.5 million. Its strongest supporters came in the energy and agriculture sectors, along with the National Science Foundation.

“We are pleased that our sponsors invest so strongly in Iowa State’s research all over campus,” ISU Vice President for Research Sarah Nusser said in a statement. “Our researchers have excelled in demonstrating the value of their discoveries.”

As for philanthropic giving, UI saw a slight uptick from $132.5 million to $133.1 million. Iowa State, while bringing in more at $174 million, experienced a dip from $186.3 million in 2017.

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

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