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Editorial: Don't rely too heavily on outside funding

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa Foundation announced last week it is beginning a new public fundraising campaign called For Iowa Forever More, which seeks to raise $1.7 billion for the university by the end of 2016.

The fundraising push, which has been underway privately since 2008, has raised a little more than $1 billion, which has so far raised the funds to support 317 new scholarships and programs for students, 118 research projects, and 88 faculty positions.

The UI Foundation’s new initiative is ambitious and certainly deserves praise for its potential to improve student life and the quality of the university’s research and facilities, particularly at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan this week that “our students and our patients tend to be our highest priorities in this campaign.”

Specifically, the money from the For Iowa Forever More campaign will be used to increase scholarships, study-abroad opportunities, and student internship programs, among others. Some of these funds will be put toward endowed faculty chairs and faculty development.

Additionally, some of the money will be put toward expanding medical research at the UIHC and the construction of the new UI Children’s Hospital, a 195-bed facility scheduled for completion in 2016.

The goals of the UI Foundation’s fundraising initiative are certainly admirable, but the unprecedented push for donations underscores and unfortunate truth about higher education in Iowa.

Between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012, state funding for the UI fell from $269.5 million to $209.7 million. Adjusted for inflation, the university’s $209.7 million appropriation in 2012 is down from a fiscal 1999 high of $359.9 million.

To accommodate this steep decline in state funding, tuition has risen dramatically, particularly over the past decade. Since 2003, both in-state and out-of-state tuition in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have nearly doubled.

To avoid shoveling the burden of rising costs and falling public funding entirely onto the backs of the students, these changing dynamics have also necessitated increased fundraising to facilitate the kind of growth expected at a major research university.

But this reliance on non-public funding sources has created a rather unsettling funding precedent at Iowa’s public universities. In 2000, 66.7 percent of the general revenue at Iowa’s three regent universities came from state funding. In 2012, that number was 35.8 percent.

In 2000, about 15 percent of the state’s general-fund budget was appropriated to the regent schools. That number is now 8.7 percent.

As our public universities receive ever diminishing support from the state, they become dependent on rising tuition and increased fundraising. Simple economics tells us that tuitions cannot rise forever; there is a price at which students will simply stop coming.

With that in mind, it is clear that an ever larger proportion of the UI’s funding will have to come from fundraising if state funding continues its current trend. This raises some troubling questions about the future of public education.

At what point does constant fundraising become overly burdensome in terms of personnel and resources? In the future, could a reliance on private donors begin to eat away at the integrity of our public research institutions?

We applaud the efforts of the UI Foundation to supplement the school’s operating budget with outside donations, but we can’t help but wonder about the implications of public schools being forced to become too reliant on private donors in a future of shrinking public support.


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