As enrollment recovers, Iowa Board of Regents eyes a request for more state aid

By: - September 8, 2022 5:53 pm

(Photo illustration using images courtesy of the Iowa Board of Regents, Iowa State University, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa)

As Iowa’s college enrollment numbers improve following a dip due to the pandemic, the Iowa Board of Regents is considering raising its budget request to match inflation and increased costs at the state’s public universities.

The Board of Regents will discuss plans next week to request $630.46 million in 2024 fiscal year appropriations during the next state legislative session. If granted, it would be an increase of roughly $34.7 million from its previous round of funding.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has not granted the full budget requests for the state universities in the past several years. Last year, lawmakers allocated $5.5 million in general aid after the Regents requested $15 million. In fiscal year 2022, state legislators did not approve any additional funding, and in FY 2021 took $7 million from the Regents’ budget in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased request accounts for recent inflation, as well as the return of students to Iowa’s public universities for in-person teaching following stretches of remote learning because of coronavirus.

The University of Iowa released its 2026 class enrollment numbers Thursday, revealing an increase in enrollment from recent years at 5,178 new students, an increase of more than 600 from the current year. It’s the third-largest incoming class, according to a UI news release, just behind the classes of 2015 and 2016. The class of 2025 had 4,521 first-year students, according to the university.

Iowa State also reported a 6.3% increase in first-year students, though overall enrollment fell by 739 over the past year. University of Northern Iowa has an incoming class of 2,200 of freshman and transfer students.

While student enrollment numbers are recovering to match pre-pandemic levels, the Board of Regents is asking for its highest total requested increase in the past nine years. Staff with the Board of Regents said this jump is largely because of rising inflation, pointing to the Consumer Price Index rise of 9% from June 2021 to June 2022.

“These rates of inflation are close to the highest rates experienced in the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s,” board staff wrote in their appropriations request, also citing “great concern about employee costs in a market heavily influenced by inflation, competition for quality talent, and labor shortages.”

The Board of Regents also pointed to inflation and rising employee and material costs this summer when they raised tuition at Iowa’s three public universities by 4.25%.

In addition to general education funding, the Regents want to set aside $7 million to support “first-in-family” students attending UI and ISU. According to a UI news release, 1 in 5 of their new class of students are first-generation college attendees.

The funding request also includes plans to expand the University of Iowa’s nursing program and UNI’s teaching program as the state faces worker shortages in those fields.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to discuss the budget request Sept. 15 in Cedar Falls.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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