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UI, ISU, UNI seek $18 million boost in state support

DES MOINES — The presidents of Iowa’s three state universities say their budgets have taken a hit during the pandemic and they’re asking legislators for an extra $18 million in the next state budgeting year, which begins July 1st.

University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld said despite federal assistance to cover pandemic-related costs, there’s still a hole in the university’s budget.

“People ask: ‘Isn’t it a lot cheaper to operate online?’ Well, no,” Harreld said during a legislative hearing on Wednesday. “We haven’t closed any of the buildings. We’ve actually had to change out the air handling equipment…I can’t think of a more expensive way to operate. We have nightly cleaning of our facilities, for obvious reasons, so we’ve added more economic activity to keeping the campus open and safe and yet we don’t have as many people in classrooms. This is a very difficult time.”

University of Northern Iowa president Mark Nook said 80% of UNI classes are being held in person, but they had to spend money to set up new classroom space — with microphones and speakers so students could hear professors wearing masks.

“It has meant a lot of changes on campus,” Nook said. “We took many of our spaces, including spaces like the ballroom in our union, which is not an academic space at all, was able to divide that into three classrooms…using lobbies and lounges that are in our residence halls for spaces as well.”

Nook said if legislators are able to provide the $5.5 million dollars in additional spending for his university, UNI’s tuition rate will remain flat. Iowa State University president Wendy Wintersteen said the extra funding from the state is essential, because when it comes to administrative costs, there’s not much to cut.

“We are all very efficient and you get to a place where you cut more, you really start to impact — in a very negative way — the quality of the work done at the institution,” Wintersteen told lawmakers.

Wintersteen said ISU’s administrative costs are 75 percent less per student than the University of Minnesota and 35 percent less than the University of Wisconsin.

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