State universities lose more than $200 million during COVID-19 pandemic

By: - February 3, 2021 4:37 pm

The University of Northern Iowa campus. (Photo by University of Northern Iowa)

Iowa’s three public colleges lost more than $208 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic, university presidents told lawmakers Wednesday. 

Presidents of the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa met Wednesday with the House Education Appropriations subcommittee to make budget recommendations for fiscal year 2022. All three presidents reported significant losses due to the ongoing pandemic.

The true impact of COVID-19 has exceeded estimates from April, when the three universities projected a $187 million loss.

UNI President Mark Nook said the university lost $35 million during the pandemic: $27.71 million in lost revenue and $7.63 million in response costs. In order to host classes during the pandemic, he said, the administration needed to rearrange large spaces to allow for socially distanced classrooms and install audio equipment to make lectures easier to hear through masks or computer speakers.

Wendy Wintersteen, president of Iowa State University, said the total impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was a $90 million loss after federal and state aid. That includes $7.4 million for response costs, $33.4 million in lost tuition, and estimated lost revenue of $68.6 million.

Wintersteen listed several actions the university took to save money: a hiring freeze, salary reductions and changes to employee benefit plans.

“These won’t be enough to address the total amount, but it’s a start,” she said.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, clad in a Hawkeye-themed mask and scarf, said his school lost $83.4 million during the pandemic, even after accounting for federal support.

“This (hole) is likely to become deeper over the next several months as we play this out and as we continue to protect ourselves with PPE,” Harreld told lawmakers.

The universities requested a $26 million increase for the 2022 fiscal year: $8 million to restore a fiscal year 2021 cut in state aid and $18 million total to the three universities. The state board of regents voted unanimously in July for a budget cut of $65.4 million.

“There’s been a generational shift in who pays for public higher education,” Harreld said. “From the state, you go back 25 years ago, you were more like 75% of our overall educational budget. Now it’s closer to 20%.”

“Full support is desperately needed, especially during this time,” Wintersteen said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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