What's in store for UNI?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Over the past three weeks, the parameters of our budget situation have started to be defined. First, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a deappropriation bill, which if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, will have a profound effect on UNI. The bill would cut $10 million from the Regents institutions for the current fiscal year -- that equates to a $1.66 million cut for UNI. The bill also would cut another $15 million from the public universities for each of the next two fiscal years.

Last week, Gov. Branstad presented his budget proposal, which includes a $6.3 million budget reduction for UNI. See the governor's full budget at http://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/lsaReports/BudgetAnalysis/LSAPreliminaryAnalysisGovFY2012BudgetRecommend.pdfBudget Image

This trend of disinvestment is troubling to say the least. Since July 1, 2008, UNI has seen no fewer than eight appropriation changes to our base budget, resulting in an appropriation reduction of $23 million (22.3 percent). In real dollars, state appropriations are now at the same level as fiscal 1997-98, and in constant dollars, the university is funded at the same level as fiscal 1987.

These budget cuts continue to have a more profound impact on UNI because we depend much more on state appropriations than our sister institutions, which have the benefit of a much greater percentage of non-resident students supplementing their budget. State appropriations and tuition are our two primary sources of revenue. The Iowa General Assembly will now take the governor's proposal and add it to the debate about the state's budget.

The Board of Regents, State of Iowa met yesterday. A key point of discussion was tuition for next year. The Board Office is recommending a 5-percent increase in resident and non-resident tuition for UNI. Even with this tuition increase and a modest predicted enrollment increase, the additional revenue when contrasted against the governor's proposed budget reduction, creates more than a $2 million shortfall going into the new fiscal year.

We do not know what the final outcome will be with respect to the budget that will be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Even the tuition decision will not be known until the March board meeting.

Planning will begin immediately to develop ways to maintain the high-quality education provided by this institution, meet the needs of our students, and continue to work toward our strategic goals, while also balancing our budget. This will not be easy, but it must be done. Tough decisions will have to be made.

What can you do? Now more than ever, it's important for us to share the value this institution brings to the state—to tell UNI's story. And we have a very important story to tell.  For example, more than 90 percent of our students come from Iowa; and 77 percent of those graduates either take their first job in Iowa or attend graduate school in Iowa. More than 60,000 UNI alumni live in Iowa.  What could be more important to the economic welfare of Iowa than providing teachers, accountants, business leaders, scientists, researchers, graduate students who become lawyers, doctors and professors, and the myriad of other professional roles that our students fill? 

Certainly, UNI is a significant contributor to the economic, social and cultural development of the state in several other ways. For example, UNI's Business and Community Services programs provide support to businesses in all 99 counties. UNI also produces creative and successful entrepreneurs. Our students create new and innovative products and start businesses that add to Iowa's economic wellbeing and stature.

Also, UNI is providing leadership to help Iowa regain its position as the state with the strongest pre-K through 12 system in the nation. An example of UNI's commitment and expertise in this area is the Iowa Math and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP), a collaborative effort with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, is headquartered at UNI and is active in 88 counties. Additionally, the upcoming statewide Research and Development School, which is in its second year of a three-year transition plan and will be headquartered at UNI, will aid significantly in advancing Iowa's educational system.

We have much to be proud of and an important story to tell. I am encouraged and thankful for what we have accomplished here at UNI.  As we make decisions in the weeks and months ahead we must do everything we can to maintain our outstanding academic quality, to ensure students progress to graduation, to make student financial aid accessible and available, and to keep our campus safe and secure. Together we will make the right decisions and continue to keep the University of Northern Iowa on the path to becoming an even greater university.

Ben Allen