Iowa student leaders take funding plea on statewide roadtrip

BY BETH BRATSOS | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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DES MOINES — Iowa's public universities have effects beyond the cities they are located in, student-government representatives from each university told Des Moines residents Monday.

More than 200 students, legislators, and residents converged at the Iowa State Fairgrounds to kick off a series of road shows supported by Universities for a Better Iowa, an initiative founded by student-government leaders from Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, and the University of Iowa.


"It's a great opportunity for public universities to come together," said Shelby Francis, a UI health and human physiology graduate student. "[We] always think of universities as being against each other, but we have a lot of the same goals and missions."

Leaders from the UI Student Government and the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students said many Iowans aren't fully aware of the statewide economic benefits their community members experience every day as a result of public universities.

Abhay Nadipuram, the governmental-relations coordinator for the Executive Council, said it's easy to think that only Ames, Iowa City, and Cedar Falls benefit from the public universities.

"But each of our public universities reaches every other community in this state, improving Iowans' lives every day," Nadipuram told the crowd.

Gov. Terry Branstad told the crowd why he values Iowa's public universities.

"I guess I can testify to that," he said. "I grew up on a farm way up in northern Iowa. My family never had a lot of resources. They didn't really have money to send me to college."

Branstad said that with his family's determination and encouragement, he was able to obtain a degree at an Iowa public university.

Katherine Valde, the UISG governmental-relations coordinator, said Universities for a Better Iowa is important in getting the attention of legislators and residents across the state. The road show will travel to several cities, including Sioux City, Mount Pleasant, Carroll, Atlantic, Dubuque, and Fort Dodge throughout this month.

"These aren't usually towns you think of as having a big presence of the universities there," she said. "The hope is to alter the perceptions of [universities' values] in the minds of legislators … and to reverse the trends of cuts and appropriations."

Regent universities received about $20 million less in appropriations last year, though Branstad and the Senate have proposed increasing regent funding by $23 million and $34 million respectively this year. A House bill would enact a $31 million cut in regent funding next year.

According to a UI Economic Impact Report, UI generates $6 billion in Iowa's economy each year.

Nadipuram also noted six of every 10 teachers in Iowa have been trained at an Iowa public university, and half of all doctors and 80 percent of dentists in Iowa were also trained at an Iowa public university. Patients around the state, he added make more than 1 million visits a year to clinics operated by the University of Iowa.

Ron Tigner, a member of the Iowa State University Ambassadors Program, said it is important for legislators to hear from students. He offered concerns over Iowa State effectively becoming a "private" university as more funding comes from the students than the public.

"Legislators will listen to a large number of people in a community if they get behind the initiatives of students here," he said. "The status of a lot of university programs are in jeopardy of maintaining their national prominence."

Joy Corning, University of Northern Iowa alumni representative, questioned the ability of universities to continue recruiting professors effectively if state funding is decreased, and she also advocated for additional state funding.

"Parents and students make up the majority of the funding, not the state of Iowa," she said. "Let's get more money for our universities."

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