Public higher education in Iowa has faced far too many blows in the past few years. And it looks like it could get worse if we don't fight to prioritize funding for our universities.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, has stated Iowa State could be facing nearly $2.5 million in budget cuts from the state in this fiscal year. The Iowa Board of Regents, as a whole, may be facing a midyear budget cut of $5.1 million under Gov. Kim Reynolds' recently released recommended fiscal budget. Gov. Reynolds didn't even mention funding for higher education in her Condition of the State speech.
The ISD Editorial Board believes this is a serious issue facing not only our university, but our state. Gov. Reynolds and the members of the Iowa General Assembly should seriously consider what another year of budget cuts would mean for an institution like Iowa State.
"I'm concerned about programming,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “I'm concerned about class sizes, being able to retain quality faculty and staff. I certainly am concerned about what the regents will propose officially in terms of tuition increases."
And these cuts come at a time that simply doesn't make sense. The state's Future Ready Iowa Metrics that Matter report shows education or training beyond high school is becoming more necessary than ever before in Iowa.
“Iowans celebrate the fact that our unemployment rate is low and our economy is growing, but, without a significant enhancement to our state’s workforce, education and training our competitiveness could evaporate,” reads the introduction of the Future Ready Iowa Metrics that Matter report. “Meanwhile, employers across the state routinely say it is hard to hire enough skilled workers.”
Why, then, would it make sense to decrease funding to the state universities educating thousands of people who could potentially solve that skills gap? In what world does it make sense to make college less affordable at a time when we need more people to have education beyond high school?
Students carry the burden
The state’s budget has a large impact on how students experience Iowa State. Iowa State’s general fund budget is funded largely (63 percent) by tuition and fees paid by students. However, about 31 percent of that budget comes from the state. This rate, as a part of the overall state budget, is agreed upon by lawmakers and voted on in the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate and signed by the governor every year.
Historically, students haven't had to carry this burden.
“Despite steadily growing student demand for higher education since the mid-1970s, state fiscal investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980,” according to a 2012 report from the American Council on Education.
Where it fits in the state's budget
In 2017, the state of Iowa faced a $350 million budget shortfall. About $118 million was cut from state programs and services. The base state appropriation for Iowa State was cut by 6.25 percent last year, or $11.5 million. Funding for specific research and development centers at Iowa State including the Nutrient Research Center, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Small Business Development Center saw a combined reduction in state funds of $1.8 million.
Adding insult to injury, Gov. Reynolds had to transfer $13 million from the state’s emergency economic fund to balance the budget and avoid having to call a special legislative session — a move that is now facing legal scrutiny.
It now appears we are on track to see much of the same in terms of funding cut from the House, Senate and Governor’s office. This is unacceptable.
Let's put up a fight
But we, as Iowa State students, faculty, staff and alumni are prepared to fight for the university we hold so dear. The request is simple, at a minimum Iowa State deserves adequate state funding. A low bar for success that we as a state are still tripping on.
Just think of the accomplishments that could be made if we set our sights just a little higher, if we stopped giving tax breaks to corporations that are worth billions of dollars. A reduction in the proposed tuition increase could be one of those accomplishments if, and only if, the state legislature decides to appropriate more funds.
The 2018 legislative session has already started. That means our work convincing lawmakers to fund the state institutions we rely on has also begun. We've collected letters from student leaders at our three regent universities as evidence of the desire to prioritize public higher education. But that can only be the start of the fight.
Letters: No funding, no future: Prioritize public higher education
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Call your local state representative and senator and share your story with them. If you are a student, let them know what a tuition hike would mean for you financially and personally.
The ISD Editorial Board is collecting letters from members of our community who would like to see more public funding for higher education from the state legislature. These letters may discuss personal experiences caused by lagging funding and/or reasons funding would be beneficial to the Iowa higher education experience. Letters can be submitted via the letters to the editor link located under the opinion tab of the iowastatedaily.com website. With questions of comments, you can reach the Daily's editor-in-chief, at firstname.lastname@example.org.