Iowa regents create task force to review state funding for universities


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The state Board of Regents announced a new task force at its meeting Thursday to analyze state funding for the regent universities.

Regent President Craig Lang has asked Regent David Miles to head the board. Additionally, Regent Katie Mulholland will serve as a member of the task force.

“We have fine institutions, and we want to continue to support the missions of all three,” Miles said.
Lang estimates the panel will be composed of roughly nine members — the two regents, an alumnus from each regent university, and other members Miles will appoint.

The formation of the task force follows concern nationwide about the rising cost of public higher education and the funding regent institutions are receiving.

The task force will review the history of how the funds have supported the three universities. It will also analyze how the money backs the regent universities along with making recommendations to help realign funding with the goals of the universities.

Lang noted the expense of postsecondary education has shifted from state funding to student debt. He said the three universities haven’t had a change in the way money has been allocated since 1946.

The force could re-examine the model in which funds are distributed to the regent universities.

Currently, the money allocated by the state government is then appropriated to Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa. ISU and the UI each receive 40 percent of the funding, and UNI receives 20 percent.

But the panel could change this model to help the UNI adjust to recent budget cuts that have left the university hurting.

“Certainly, UNI has faced some major challenges, and that’s something that the task force to look at,” Miles said.

Lang said 40/40/20 distribution might not have benefitted the universities equally in the past.

“It didn’t allow the dollar distribution [to be] necessarily fair with the number of in-state students,” he said. “David [Miles] has had a lot of discussion with both Bruce [Rastetter] and I over the last few years about [if] is there a better way to look at this.”

But Lang said if the model was to change, no universities would be damaged from a switch and the regents wouldn’t move large allocations from one regent university to the other. The panel wouldn’t leave a university drastically short of funds than it has previously been granted.

“We are not doing harm to universities as they are today,” Lang said.

This point addresses a concerned raised by Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport.

“Certainly, it’s always helpful to have a group of individuals have a conversation about some different ways of funding,” Winckler said. “But I think I would want to be assured that in the very beginning, all three regent universities would be held harmless in regards to reduction of funding.”

But she said this task force, as another means of communication, could benefit funding.

Rep. Curtis Hanson, D-Fairfield, echoed this sentiment.

“The more information we have, the better we are equipped to make those decisions,” he said.
The panel will have a full agenda once it begins to meet.

Winckler said she hopes the task force not only looks at each regent university’s student population when discussing funding but also the bigger picture — the state provides more funding for the private institutions than the public ones.

“We’re almost upside down in our funding,” Winkler said. “I think those are all significant considerations to add to the mix of what the task force might be looking at.’

For now, Miles said, the distribution of funds needs discussion.

“The formula for providing state appropriations among the universities has not been revisited for quite some time, and it’s time to take a fresh look,” he said.

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