Iowa Board of Regents to request more funding in upcoming session

By: - September 15, 2022 5:37 pm

Iowa Board of Regents members gathered at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls for two days of meetings. They approved their budget request Sept. 15, 2022. (Screenshot by Iowa Board of Regents YouTube page)

The Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved plans to ask the Iowa Legislature for a budget increase of more than $34 million.

Board members also unanimously passed a $1 million amendment to the total appropriations request of over $630 million, which would provide added funding for mental health services at the state’s public universities. The amendment was approved after board members said they talked with students who expressed the need for mental health service expansion at the universities.

“We’ve heard from our student leaders in all the universities how mental health issues and concerns have increased in the past years,” Regent Nancy Boettger said at the meeting in Cedar Falls Thursday. “We’ve also heard (this) from our presidents in our universities.”

The money will be distributed by the board to all three public universities. The budget had already contained a request for $1 million toward expanded mental health programs at Iowa State University.

The approved budget request has other expansion proposals, including $7 million for the University of Iowa to expand its College of Nursing program, and $4 million for the University of Northern Iowa’s teaching program.

Teachers and nurses are two fields facing significant labor shortages, nationally and in Iowa, in part becauise of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on schools and hospitals.

The workforce shortage did not just increase the Fiscal Year 2024 budget price tag for expanded programs; board staff said in their request that more funding was needed across the board to retain university staff.

“There is great concern about employee costs in a market heavily influenced by inflation, competition for quality talent and labor shortages,” board staff wrote in their request.

Inflation is the primary driver behind the final budget request, which is the board’s highest total requested increase of the past nine years. The cost of labor, goods and services and technology have all increased dramatically, and Regents staff said their budget request reflects the additional expense related to services and goods Iowa’s public universities already provide.

In past years, the Republican-controlled state legislature has not agreed with the board’s assessment on state funding. State legislators cut the Regents’ budget by more than $7 million in 2020 and did not approve additional funding the following year. In this year’s session, lawmakers granted just $5.5 million in general aid rather than the board’s requested $15 million.

In part to make up for that difference, the Board of Regents raised the annual tuition by more than $300 at all three universities in July, following a 3.5% hike at UI and ISU the previous year. While board members said that the 4.25% increase was lower than the rate of inflation, student leaders argued the new costs may prevent some Iowans from attending college.

The newly approved appropriations request also includes $11 million in allocations to expand funding for low-income or first-generation college students at all three state universities. According to September enrollment data, one in five of UI’s incoming class are first-generation college students.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.