Education

University of Northern Iowa cutting courses, faculty amid budget and enrollment woes

UNI also upping class sizes as enrollment dips

A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A driver drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa on Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

With the University of Northern Iowa this fall anticipating its lowest enrollment since at least 1976, administrators are cutting course sections, increasing class sizes and reducing the overall number of faculty, Board of Regents documents released Tuesday show.

UNI also is trimming its student financial aid budget by $1.2 million “given the flat tuition rates and expected dip in enrollment,” according to budget documents the regents are expected to consider next week.

UNI President Mark Nook last month told The Gazette his team is building a budget based on enrolling 10,600 students this fall — which, if realized, would represent a 600-student drop from last fall and UNI’s lowest enrollment in 43 years.

Because UNI froze tuition rates this fall — in hopes of remaining competitive with other regional universities and since lawmakers fully funded its request for an additional $4 million — the school’s tuition revenue is projected to drop by $6.6 million.

“At the same time that UNI has reduced the number of sections and increased average class size, the university has also reduced the overall number of full-time and part-time faculty,” the documents state. “With the enrollment decline, UNI has taken a strategic approach to faculty hiring, reducing the overall number of faculty over time.”

The university indicated those reductions have occurred “largely through attrition and retirements” — although UNI didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to The Gazette’s questions about how many positions or people have been cut, how many course sections have been eliminated or how much class sizes are increasing.

In total, according to the documents, UNI’s 2020 salary and fringe benefit costs are projected to decrease $3 million.

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Although Iowa State University also is projecting an enrollment dip this fall, it’s expecting an increase in tuition revenue of about $4.6 million. That’s because of a nearly 4 percent rate hike for resident undergraduates and a nearly 5 percent bump for non-residents and graduate students, plus even higher increases for costlier programs.

The University of Iowa is imposing the same nearly 4 percent increase for its resident undergraduates, but lesser increases for non-residents and graduate students. Although the UI hasn’t reported its projected fall enrollment, it’s expecting a larger incoming freshman class, according to the documents.

Still, UI gross tuition revenue is budgeted to drop $5.1 million due to the school’s elimination of a popular summer financial aid program “and other projected enrollment changes.”

By cutting the UI Summer Hawk Tuition Grant — which officials said was costing too much to continue — the university is decreasing its financial aid budget for next year by $6.1 million.

While ISU’s financial aid budget is staying relatively flat, it’s committing more money toward faculty and staff salaries.

“In total, $7 million is budgeted for increased compensation for faculty, professional and scientific staff, and post docs at ISU,” according to regent documents.

The universities in recent years cut costs, froze faculty pay, ended programs, delayed construction and dropped scholarships in response to cuts in state aid. Lawmakers this year restored some of that funding, increasing regent appropriations for the next budget year by $12 million — although that was below the $18 million the board had requested.

The board is splitting the $12 million evenly.

Of the three public universities, UNI relies the most on state aid, with appropriations funding 56 percent of its fiscal 2020 budget.

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ISU’s budget, on the other hand, is just 26 percent from state aid — with the majority coming in the form of tuition.

Despite the incremental increases this year in state support, the UI in its board report indicated it will continue to “identify, evaluate, and possibly discontinue or close activities in which state resources are no longer sufficient to support these functions.”

UI Health Care

University of Iowa Health Care, while also forecasting financial challenges, is not associating them with fewer customers — reporting the opposite to the Board of Regents with a prediction of “continued high demand for its services.”

Inpatient admissions are expected to rise nearly 3 percent, while outpatient activity is projected to swell 5 percent.

And yet “there are ever-increasing financial pressures on the health care industry.”

“Both governmental and non-governmental payers are looking to reduce health care spend,” the UIHC report to the board said. “In FY2020, UI Health Care faces continued pressure on reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid.”

Regents earlier approved a 6 percent rate increase for the hospitals, effective July 1.

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

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