Iowa stands out by decreasing its support for universities


David W. Leslie

the Register’s July 11 editorial discusses the consequences of reduced state support for public universities in Iowa: As state support decreases, tuition fees rise, making college education less affordable. What the editorial does not say is that Iowa’s funding for its (formerly) major universities has declined at one of the fastest rates in the country.

The association of state higher education executives Report on the financing of state higher education for 2018-19 shows that Iowa’s higher education funding (in constant dollars) over the past decade ranks it among the worst in the country.

Illinois State University’s Grapevine Report shows that Iowa left higher education with less current dollars of state support in 2021 than in 2016. The rest of the country increased funding (in current dollars) at the same time by 11% in average by state. The states that fell behind Iowa during this time were Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

Iowa is not a poor state. Its taxable resources and tax rates per capita, according to the association of higher education officers, are average. Its per capita tax revenue is also average (or just slightly below). In 2008, it allocated about 7.9% of its income to higher education (against 6.6% nationally), 21st in the country. In 2018, Iowa spent 5.5% (compared to 5.6% nationally) on higher education, or 29th.

Only seven states further reduced the percentage of their income spent on higher education over the decade: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Iowa cut its college credits per $ 1,000 of personal income by 34.2% – more than a third – over a 10-year period when inflation rose 21%. Only six states reduced a higher percentage per $ 1,000 of personal income. Over the decade, according to the SHEEO report, Iowa has reduced its per capita support for higher education more than all of its neighboring states and all states with Big Ten and Big 12 conference universities except Oklahoma.

The burden of funding Iowa’s universities has shifted from the state to its students. In 2009, 29% of Iowa State University’s revenue came from its state appropriation, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and 17% came from tuition and fees. In 2019, state credits provided just under 20% of its income, and tuition fees provided 27%. (The University of Iowa’s finances include its hospital, so the two universities are not easily compared.)

Both Iowa schools increased their tuition fees by about 40% during that time, double the inflation rate of 21%. The Editorial Board suggests easing the burden on families by turning to endowment funds for student aid (or perhaps to plug the credit hole). A billion dollar endowment may seem like a lot. But parts are legally dedicated for certain purposes and may not be cash at all, as their assets could include art collections, real estate, and restricted trusts. The (unrestricted) disposable income from endowments is probably extremely low due to the growing needs of students.

Iowa has deprived its universities of state support for at least a decade. He gradually shifted the burden on the students and their families. It is among the states that have been slow to offer quality higher education. Its current position is shameful for a state that once led the excellence of its higher education system.

David W. Leslie of West Des Moines is Chancellor Emeritus Professor of Education at the College of William and Mary.

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