Chronicle Editorial

Regents two-for-three with new funding plan


     After a month of speculation, the Iowa Board of Regents followed through with a controversial new funding plan last week that benefits two out of the three state universities. Only the University of Iowa stands to lose money under the model, which comes with both positives and negatives for higher education throughout the state.

     The new funding model will be phased in over three years beginning in 2016 to ease the burden for the UI. Under the plan, 60 percent of state appropriations for each school would be based on the number of Iowa students enrolled at the institution – if there’s more students from Iowa at a school, then the state cuts that school gets a bigger piece of the pie. The remaining 40 percent would come from various performance-based benchmarks like degree attainment and other factors.

     Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa were clear-cut winners under the regents’ new plan. Both have significant numbers of in-state students enrolled at their schools – 60 percent of ISU’s total student body is from Iowa, while 89 percent of UNI’s hails from the Hawkeye State. However, only 53 percent of the UI’s total enrollment is made up of Iowans. If adpoted at once, the plan would cut $47,766,038 in state funding to the UI and distribute it relatively evenly among ISU and UNI, according to the Des Moines Register.

     The new model has drawn criticism from UI supporters and other officials, but serious funding pitfalls at the state’s other two schools needed to be addressed, especially at UNI. The Register’s report pointed out that the university previously received only 18 percent of the state’s total annual appropriations for higher education. The UI and ISU received 46 percent and 36 percent respectively, which leaves UNI with very little to work with. The school should be rewarded for educating such high proportions of Iowa’s students and the new model seems to do that.

     However, the new performance-based funding model comes with some caveats. The UI’s many graduate and professional programs attract higher proportions of international and out-of-state students, and they could take a hit under the revised funding model. These visitors help keep tuition lower for in-state students and they also add to the diverse learning culture that’s made the UI nationally-renowned in many fields of study. Issues with funding distribution were evident with the old model, but a solution shouldn’t come at the long-term expense of the UI.

     In spite of these potential downfalls, the new funding model will seemingly push the UI in a direction that’s more advantageous to in-state students. University of Iowa President Sally Mason embraced the regents’ plan last week by pledging to ramp up in-state recruiting while simultaneosly maintaining the same number of international and out-of-state students. The new in-state recruiting campaign is motivated by money, but it’s still worthwhile. The UI was created to educated Iowans, and it’s time the school refocuses efforts to draw more of our state’s students.

     The new funding model approved last week is give and take. Nonetheless, it was time to revamp the formula that determines how our state’s universities are funded. UNI shouldn’t get punished for enrolling more Iowa students, which was essentially the case under the old model. The regents’ new plan creates a playing field that’s more equal while simultaneously placing added emphasis on the thing that matters most – Iowa students.