The role of public higher education in benefiting society has long been acknowledged. However, in recent years, forces including political and cultural factors have led to a challenge of the public role in supporting higher education, causing a decline in state funding across the US, including in Iowa. Since 1990, Iowa’s state support for higher education has significantly decreased, resulting in a substantial increase in tuition and fees for students and their families. Between Fiscal Years 2000 and 2011, appropriations for Iowa’s three public universities decreased by almost 40%, while tuition for the average Iowa student increased by over 75% over the same period.
The primary sources of income for Iowa’s public universities are state aid and student tuition and fees. Despite diverse revenue streams, including federal and private grants for research, private and corporate donations, ticket sales from sporting events, sales of services, and interest from investments, the decrease in state support and increase in student tuition have created significant financial challenges for Iowa’s public universities.
The decline in state support for public universities in Iowa is part of a larger trend in which education funding has decreased nationwide. While overall education funding has remained around 60% of total General Fund appropriations in Iowa, the share of the state budget going to Iowa’s public universities has steadily decreased. General Fund appropriations for all Board of Regents institutions and functions, including the Schools for the Deaf and Blind, have decreased from 14.9% to 8.7% of the total.
The lack of adequate state funding for Iowa’s public universities raises concerns, as it poses a threat to the ability of these institutions to attract and retain top talent, which is crucial to achieving the state’s ambitious goals of creating new jobs and increasing family incomes. While universities can find ways to reduce costs, it is crucial that state lawmakers recommit to adequately funding higher education to ensure the provision of a high-quality, affordable education to Iowans.
In conclusion, public higher education is a crucial asset that benefits society in economic, democratic, and civic terms. The decrease in state support for higher education in Iowa and across the US has led to significant financial challenges for public universities, which threatens their ability to attract and retain top talent. Adequate funding from state lawmakers is crucial to ensuring that Iowa’s public universities can continue to provide a high-quality, affordable education to the state’s residents and contribute to its economic growth and democratic values.