The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 8, 2014

Change in funding formula needed for state universities

The Clinton Herald

---- — We’ve known for a long time that when it comes to state funding formulas for regent institutions, the University of Northern Iowa usually gets short shrift.

State leaders are beginning to recognize that, and are making moves to bring a little more equity into the equation. That help, however, is coming in one- or two-year lump sums — not a great long-term solution.

Gov. Terry Branstad has budgeted an additional $4 million for UNI in each of the next two fiscal years. Of course that’s appreciated, but some legislators are asking the Iowa Board of Regents to find a more permanent fix.

“UNI doesn’t have the out-of-state tuition, or a law school, medical hospital and the research areas the other two universities have,” said Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, vice chair of the education appropriation subcommittee. “Northern Iowa’s mission is different.”

UNI depends on revenues from in-state tuition more than the other two state universities. Back-to-back in-state tuition freezes have hit UNI harder than the other universities.

First, we were solidly behind the tuition freeze, simply because students and their families deserve a break from continued tuition increases that stretch back to 2000. Iowa tuition rose by almost 60 percent between 2001 and 2005 alone.

However, the freeze is only accentuating the problems in current funding schemes.

“A tuition freeze is good news and bad news,” said University of Northern Iowa President Bill Ruud. “It’s great for Iowa families but a double-edged sword for UNI. We have no opportunity for $50 or $100 more per semester to use to grow and develop programs.”

UNI is still dealing with a loss of $24 million in state funding between 2009 and 2012. If $10 million were permanently added to its budget, it would be close to 2009 funding levels.

About 90 percent of UNI’s enrollment comes from within Iowa’s borders.

Former Iowa lawmaker Willard Jenkins has calculated that UNI supported 23 percent of Iowa students at the three regent universities during the fall semester, but was appropriated 18 percent of the state dollars budgeted for higher education.

Ruud has proposed that 75 percent of the state appropriations go toward resident students.

“I just need to be put on a level playing field,” he said.

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, is also speaking about long-term solutions.

“The concern is that if UNI continues to accept the crumbs from the other two institutions, then that’s what they will get into perpetuity,” he said.

He added that the University of Iowa has over a half a billion dollars in cash and cash equivalents, while UNI has $27 million.

The Iowa Board of Regents and our lawmakers need to continue working toward a long-term solution that gives UNI a fair shake going forward.

The bottom line is we shouldn’t be punishing one university because a greater percentage of its enrollment comes from our own state.