The following editorial appeared in the Des Moines Register on July 11:
Iowa’s three public universities have two major sources of revenue: state appropriations and tuition.
When the first goes down, the second goes up. And the first has gone down significantly in recent decades.
The Iowa Legislature appropriated $63 million less to regents institutions in 2021 than it did in 2001. Forget about adjusting for inflation. This is a drop in dollars. As the cost of everything from energy to health care increased, more students enrolled in college and the total state budget doubled over two decades, lawmakers actually reduced the amount of money going to our public universities.
The starving continues today.
Last legislative session, the Board of Regents requested a mere $18 million increase in state appropriations for fiscal year 2022 and a restoration of $8 million that had been cut in fiscal year 2021.
The GOP-controlled Legislature responded by passing a bill that froze state appropriations.
Translation: We don’t care about public higher education or Iowa families who seek it as a path to a better future.
Which brings us to tuition, the second major source of revenue for schools.
The Board of Regents is proposing another increase in tuition — about $280 at the University of Iowa and Iowa State and $115 at the University of Northern Iowa.
A few hundred dollars, again and again, adds up to bigger tuition bills that students are responsible for paying. Many have no choice but to borrow money. Average student loan debt for graduates of Iowa’s colleges and universities was $30,259 in 2019, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.
Graduates begin their post-college life paying (or defaulting on) student loans. So do young people who borrowed money and dropped out of school. The bills also come due for parents and grandparents who borrowed or co-signed education loans for loved ones.
Iowa must break this painful cycle of increasingly unaffordable public education that discourages people from attending school and saddles those who do with debt.
The cycle can be broken if Iowans demand it.
Voters should pressure state lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds to dramatically increase funding to our public universities. By dramatically, we mean $100 million or more annually in additional support. An investment in our public schools is an investment in innovation, life-saving research, economic development and future generations of Iowans.
Lawmakers should fund financial aid designated solely to students attending regents institutions. The vast majority of state-funded, need-based aid — nearly 80% — goes to students attending private schools. Iowa ranks last among all states in the percentage of this aid provided to students attending public schools.
State leaders should reexamine the role of tax-exempt university foundations, which raise money on behalf of schools. While universities beg at the statehouse for 26 million bucks, the fundraising organizations at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have nearly $3 billion in assets.
That’s billion with a b.
The president of the UI foundation is paid more than $500,000 annually. Expenditures on the tax forms of the nonprofit entities reflect millions of dollars spent each year on staff development, mail solicitations, magazine printing, professional fundraising fees, and travel.
Somehow, more of the money raised by foundations should be used to subsidize tuition for more students and hold down the cost of attending college. While these nonprofits must abide by federal rules related to lobbying, they can do more to educate lawmakers about how reduced state support harms our public schools and residents.
Iowa needs to change course. It needs to get back to its roots — to the days when we recognized college wasn’t just about helping individuals get better jobs. It was about creating a more educated population, which benefits all of us.
Tax forms provide foundation salaries, expenditures
University foundations are tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations required to file a Form 990 annually with the Internal Revenue Service. Some organizations make these documents available on their websites. The public can also use third-party entities like Guidestar to view the forms. A 990 provides information about top salaries, expenditures, investment income and assets. The editorial board used documents from the tax year beginning in 2018 because that was available for all three university foundations.
The State University of Iowa Foundation, formerly known as the University of Iowa Foundation, reported $1.52 billion in assets. Its annual expenses included $883,355 on professional fundraising services and $804,394 on advertising and promotion. Reportable compensation for President Lynette Marshall was $537,600.
The Iowa State University Foundation reports $1.22 billion in assets. Its annual expenses included $600,687 on conferences, conventions and meetings and $748,678 on travel. Total compensation for President and CEO for Larissa Holtmyer Jones was $410,752.
The University of Northern Iowa Foundation reports $1.56 million in assets. Its annual expenses included $399,335 for professional fundraising services and $625,491 for travel. Reportable compensation for former President Lisa Baronio (through December 2018) was $240,624.