University of Iowa officials consider closing centers, institutes in reaction to state budget cuts
Tuition rates at Iowa's three public universities has increased 30 percent since the 2009-10 academic year. Rates are expected to jump again for the 2018-19 academic year. Kathy A. Bolten/The Register
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Ia. — Centers and institutes located at the University of Iowa face severe cuts and possible closure if their main focus has little to do with student learning, research or economic development, President Bruce Harreld said Thursday during the Iowa Board of Regents meeting.
Harreld declined to name the centers or institutes but was blunt on why leaders of at the University's 12 colleges are conducting a thorough review of the cost to operate the programs:
“Since the state is no longer providing the same level of support it did a generation ago, we can no longer perform various activities the state asked us to perform in the past,” Harreld told regents. “We cannot let student tuition subsidize the various activities the state of Iowa no longer funds.”
Harreld’s comments came after discussions about raising tuition rates for the 2018-19 school year and the need to provide students with additional financial support.
Dr. Michael Richards, Iowa Board of Regents president, told the House Appropriations Committee that they had only planned for a four percent tuition increase or less to the state's schools.
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In the past decade, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa have been forced to rely more heavily on revenue generated from tuition because of reductions in state appropriations. In 2008, 49 percent of the universities’ revenue came from state appropriations and 45 percent from tuition. Last year, tuition generated 63 percent of revenue and state aid, 32 percent.
In addition, the universities have undergone mid-year budget cuts the past two years. Last month, both Iowa State and the University of Iowa were told to find $11 million to cut from their current budgets with just three months left in the fiscal year.
Harreld said the university would halt planned building projects and improvements; Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen said open positions would remain unfilled and the remainder of reductions would be distributed across departments.
The Legislature has not yet set the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Presidents of the three state universities last fall asked lawmakers for $12 million in additional revenue that would be used for financial aid for students. Regents, on Thursday, repeated the request saying the state is at risk of keeping its neediest students from attending college.
“There’s 150 legislators in Des Moines but there’s only one governor,” said Larry McKibben, a regent and former state senator. “The buck stops at the top.
“I’m begging the governor to give us that $12 million we are needing so desperately ... The governance in Des Moines isn’t helping the rest of the state of Iowa or the low-income areas or low-income families or first-generation students.”
The regents spent considerable time during this week’s meeting to learn about the growing financial need of students at the three universities.
In 2016-17, students from families with adjusted annual incomes of up to $48,000 faced net costs that averaged $9,600 to $11,200 after grants and scholarships. The most in federal loans students can receive is $5,500; that amount could be less, depending on the student’s family income.
To cover remaining costs, students work and take out private loans. Students’ parents also take out loans. In 2016-17, parents of students who attended the three state universities borrowed $94.2 million from the federal government through its Parent PLUS program. The average loan amount was $13,000.
“It’s increasingly difficult for those poorest students to” attend the state’s public universities, Roberta Johnson, Iowa State’s director of financial, told regents.
Many work to help support their families, she said. “Part of the challenge for them is to find the ability to be a student while also being a wage-earner for their family.”
A growing percentage of Iowa’s K-12 students — 40 percent this school year — are from low-income families. If those students cannot afford to pay the costs associated with getting post-secondary training or education, the state will struggle to meet its goals for a more highly educated worker force, regents said.
The regents spent little time discussing next year’s proposed tuition rates. Undergraduates face increases in standard tuition rates that range from 2.8 percent to 3.8 percent. Students in majors related to science, technology, business and engineering face even higher increases.
The proposed rate increases are expected to generate $24.9 million in additional revenue for the University Northern Iowa, Iowa State and University of Iowa.
Student leaders told regents they didn’t like the rate hikes but understood why they were needed.
“The state has set a dangerous precedent of simply relying on tuition increases as an approach to filling budget shortfalls,” said Grant Jerkovich, UI Graduate and Professional Student Government vice president.
“There seems to be a disconnect at the statehouse between cuts to Iowa’s public universities and the impact those cuts will have on students and the state’s communities.”
What’s next: The Iowa Board of Regents are expected to vote on the tuition proposals at their June 5-7 meeting at the University of Northern Iowa.