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Editorial: Approve the Regents’ funding request

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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The state Board of Regents had an eventful session Wednesday.  The regents approved a new residence hall at the University of Iowa, moved ahead on a change in the funding model for regent universities, and UI President Sally Mason outlined a proposal for students of certain majors to get a bachelor’s degree in three years.

But not all of the changes are fruitful for the UI. Under the new funding model, in which funds to the three state universities will be largely based on in-state enrollment, the UI risks losing $13 million to be divided between Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa because of their larger proportion of in-state students.

Of the roughly $500 million that the schools receive from the regents annually, 60 percent will be based on the new in-state enrollment standards. This is a problem for the UI — just 48 percent of the UI’s incoming freshmen were from Iowa in 2013. The regents have asked the Iowa’s Legislature for $13 million to offset the cuts.

The approval of those funds is no certain thing. After two-consecutive tuition freezes and a 4 percent funding increase authorized by the Legislature earlier this year, state senators and representatives up for re-election may be wary about the regents’ requests.  The House proposed a cut last spring that would have chopped  $4 million in funding from the UI, and the beliefs behind that move has by no means gone away.

It’s unfortunately part of a long-standing pattern in public investment in the regent universities. In fiscal 2001, around 64 percent of the regent-university funding came from government appropriations and 31 percent came from tuition. In fiscal 2014, 35 percent of that funding came from government appropriations and 60 percent came from tuition.

Relying on tuition for funding may work in the short term, because budgets for education seem to only be shrinking. But even with the recent tuition freeze for in-state students, Iowa’s graduates face the sixth-largest student debt load in the nation.

Politicians like to talk about investing “in our future.” But transferring the burden for university funding from the public coffers to our future workforce (debt-ridden college students) does them no favors.

The regent’s implementation of the efficiency cuts recommended by Deloitte Consulting, along with Mason’s three-year graduation proposal, which could be available for select majors as early as next fall, will help ease the pain as the administration finds better ways to spend the money it has.

But if Iowa’s lawmakers do not approve the $13 million funding request, the UI will suffer. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board urges the Legislature to approve the additional funding. With $523 million requested in total, $13 million is just a drop in the bucket for the overall education budget. But it would mean the world for UI students.


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