Harreld issues call to action following proposed budget cuts to Iowa universities

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld -- photo by Adam Burke
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld — photo by Adam Burke

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld issued a call to action Thursday following Gov. Terry Branstad’s suggested $34.3 million cut to higher education — the largest cut made as part of an effort to slice $110 million from the budget for the current budget year.

“This cut, in the current fiscal year, is not without precedent,” Harreld said in the statement. “But though we have weathered setbacks like this before, we must make clear to the citizens and representatives of Iowa what effect cuts like this one could have on our state’s flagship university — indeed, on all of Iowa’s public universities.”

He went on to say that he would “advocate forcefully” for the resources needed to carry out the university’s strategic plan, and held up faculty compensation as the one area that cannot be compromised.

“If we are to uphold our principles, we must be able to compete for the best and brightest—not just in Iowa, but nationally and internationally,” he said. “We can’t lose the gifted educators and researchers who call the University of Iowa home, and we must continue to recruit talented people.”

The governor’s recommended cut to higher education is split between the Board of Regents, which would see $25.6 million in de-appropriations, and community colleges, which would have $8.7 million taken away. The cuts came as a result of lower than expected tax collections.

The large slice from higher education budgets came despite the governor highlighting in last week’s Condition of the State address the need to focus on “growing our state’s talent pipeline” and close skills gaps in Iowa’s workforce, which he cited as one of the biggest challenges facing the state.

“That is why Lt. Governor Reynolds and I set the Future Ready Iowa goal that 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce should have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Today, less than half of our workforce does,” Branstad said in his speech. “Accomplishing this ambitious goal will create unprecedented opportunities for Iowans and better position our state to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based, digital economy.”

Harreld’s message noted that over the last 20 years higher education costs have increasingly shifted from the public onto the backs of students. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that as states cut funding for public colleges and universities following the 2008 recession, tuitions increased, making higher education less accessible. Students paying those higher tuitions have seen faculty cuts and fewer course offerings. According to the center’s calculations, Iowa saw a 22 percent reduction in the state’s higher education spending per student from 2008 to 2016, when adjusting for inflation.

The increased tuition rates have led to increasing student debt. For the Class of 2015, seven in 10 seniors had student loan debt, averaging more than $30,000 per student, according to data from The Institute for College Access and Success. That’s a four percent increase from the previous year’s graduates.

In light of the proposed de-appropriations, the Board of Regents decided earlier this week not to give pay raises to university presidents or the board’s Executive Director Robert Donley, according to reporting by The Gazette.

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