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UI and ISU in better economic shape than UNI, but not immune to program cuts

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | MARCH 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Higher-education officials nationwide are searching for ways to offset tuition increases sparked by budget crises, with some officials favoring program cuts in academic areas.

"Because states are contributing less every year as far as per student appropriations, campuses have to evaluate what they are spending on — some are eliminating programs," said Tom Harnisch, a policy analyst for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Iowa's regent universities aren't immune to the situation. The University of Northern Iowa recently proposed changes that could eliminate or restructure 77 academic programs.

Stacey Christensen, the University Relations public-relations manager at UNI, said the university is considering cuts to nonacademic programs, but those cuts haven't been enough.

"What we were really trying to do is take a look and position for our future, so that we can position our university's future to provide the best quality education for our students," she said.

To offset the $5 million deficit, the UNI proposed cutting $500,000 from athletics programs and closing printing services and the university museum.

The proposal also includes cutting 23 undergraduate programs, 19 minors, and 16 graduate programs and restructuring 19 programs.

Though the UI and Iowa State University are not experiencing issues as heavily as the UNI, officials at both schools said they are continually monitoring programs and the needs of students at the universities.

"We are not looking to close down majors [at the UI]," said Beth Ingram, the UI associate provost for undergraduate education. "Shutting down a degree for the most part doesn't save any resources."

Ingram said the university doesn't measure the contribution of a department by one dimension — a lot of factors play into a decision of elimination.

For instance, she said, the UI Statistics Department is small but serves many other departments of the university with courses and has strong research.

John Keller, the dean of the UI Graduate College, said in the last two to three years, the university has eliminated 25 degree majors and subtracks in degree majors and certificates, restructured 11 programs, and established nine new graduate programs.

"In the last two to three years, we have done a thorough analysis of the UI's programs looking at viability, sustainability and quality as they look to the future," he said.

Karen Zunkel, the director of undergraduate support services for the ISU Office of the Provost, said many factors that have to be looked at when considering program cuts.

"Sometimes, there is a reason to have low enrollment — you may want to have smaller sizes," she said. "Rather than eliminating courses we evaluate when we can offer."

Another factor for UNI is the school's small out-of-state and international-student populations, which can contribute more tuition. Officials at the UNI as well as ISU and UI are focusing on more recruitment in these areas.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who voted in favor of a measure giving UNI $4 million more than the UI and ISU in general state funding on Monday, said UNI has a different demographic.

"Iowa State and the UI have a good proportion of out-of-state students, and their tuition covers in-state students' tuition," he said, noting UNI's 90 percent in-state student population. "It's kind of a hardship."

Cutting programs is painful because some of these programs are popular, Harnisch said.

"But ultimately, they have to prioritize what the campus is spending the money on," he said. "And in difficult financial times, that means programs may be cut or eliminated."


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