Board of Regents to consider $20 million funding increase for regent universities


Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen speaks to the board about the new and different things Iowa State has begun to implement to make the school function better and more economically during the Board of Regents meeting Feb. 22.

Devyn Leeson

The Iowa Board of Regents will consider a funding increase of more than $20 million to Regent universities following back-to-back mid-year budget cuts.

The request, which represents a 3.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year, will have to pass through the board and then the state legislature to be enacted. The last two funding requests from the Board of Regents were denied by the state legislature, and instead opted to give mid-year budget cuts on both occasions.

The Board of Regents asked for a 2 percent increase over the previous fiscal year in FY 18 and a 2.6 percent increase over the previous year in FY 19 — the current fiscal year.

The three regent universities — Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa — incurred a $35 million cut last fiscal year between them, leading to tuition increases at all regent universities and program cuts at some. If approved, The Board of Regents’ request would prevent further setbacks for regent universities.

“When comparing states by the percent of need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions, Iowa is last in the country,” according to documents from the Board of Regents.

“Moving up one spot would require more than $20 million dedicated to the students attending Iowa’s public universities.”

The request from from the Board of Regents is around $499 million for higher education — $18 million higher than the current fiscal year and around a $2.5 million increase in other non-academic areas.

The funding increases focus on four main areas: agricultural and natural resources, economic development, special purposes and special school funding.

Agricultural and natural resources appropriation request:

To keep up with Iowa State’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) caseload doubling in size since 2010, the request would increase funding to the VDL by $410,000.

The legislature currently supplies funding to the VDL at $4.1 million, but the VDL still funds 75 to 80 percent of its budget through fees for its services. The request claims this is “among the highest in the United States.”

The funding would be used to purchase equipment and on-board technologies to improve testing capabilities on livestock, retain staff in a “highly competitive job market” and improve reporting results for clients.

“When producers have access to timely and affordable diagnostics, they test their animals earlier and more frequently; thus diseases are detected earlier, preventing the spread to neighbors’ animals,” according to the Board of Regents documents.

Economic development appropriations request:

Another part of the request would provide a recurring $4 million in state appropriations to the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) to fund four different Iowa Bioscience platforms with the hope of strengthening research at Iowa State and other regent universities. The funds would also help develop the Iowa Biosciences Development Center to coordinate necessary activities related to biosciences research.

“Biosciences are critical to Iowa’s economy and are vital to the state’s future economic development and growth,” according to documents from the Board of Regents. “In the TEConomy report released by the Governor, four bioscience platforms were identified where Iowa has the greatest likelihood of achieving a differentiated leadership position to grow and diversify the state’s economy.”

Those four areas include bio-based chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapeutics and medical devices.

The Board of Regents says their goal with these requests is to improve the resources of universities and student experiences.

“To maximize benefits to Iowans and other citizens, the Board of Regents advocates for adequate support for Regent institutions from all sources for high quality educational opportunities accessible to Iowans, research and scholarship, service activities, and economic development efforts,” according to documents from the Board of Regents. “The Board’s strategic plan also calls for adequate support of Regent institutions from all sources and promoting the effective use of resources to meet institutional missions.”

The request calls for a $4.4 million increase in funding for economic development. The current budget for the fiscal year is set at $8.7 million.

Special purpose appropriations request:

Special purpose appropriations for Iowa State includes funding for the Ag. Experiment Station, coop extension services and livestock disease research. The request does not include an increase in these areas.

“While these units have a far reaching impact and additional funding is needed to maintain the quality work they do for Iowans, no incremental funding for FY 2020 is requested,” according to documents from the Board of Regents. “The total special purpose request totaling $66.27 million equals that appropriated for FY 2019.”

Special schools appropriations request:

“The funding request for the two special schools, Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD) and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School (IBSSS) allows the Board of Regents to continue to provide high quality, individualized instructional opportunities to children and youth who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and to those who are blind or visually impaired,” according to documents from the Board of Regents.

Both schools rely on state funds to operate. The funding request would include a $400,000 increase for ISD and $167,000 for IBSSS.

The Board of Regents’ documents say the funds will help support “standards based instruction” and assessments to increase comprehension for reading and math programs.

If the funding request is approved by the Board of Regents but denied by the state legislature, it will mark the third year in a row funding has been denied, likely leading to funding troubles for the Iowa State and the other regent universities.

The two main sources of funding for universities is state appropriations and tuition, so failure to grant appropriations requests often leads to tuition increases including a 3.8 percent increase to tuition last year for students.

While Iowa State recouped some of its expenses through this tuition increase last year, the mid-year cuts couldn’t be retroactively solved as tuition can’t be raised in the middle or end of a semester. Iowa State was able to absorb two thirds of the $5.4 million in mid-year cuts internally and cut the rest of their share of the mid-year cut from academic areas.