Leath makes formal appeal to legislators

President Steven Leath and his peers from the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa presented their fiscal year 2018 budget priorities to the Legislature's education appropriations subcommittee Feb. 22 at the state Capitol.

Iowa State has asked for a 2 percent increase in state operational support for the budget year that begins July 1. This would apply to both the general university and direct appropriations (Extension and outreach, economic development programs, Agriculture Experiment Station and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory). The $8 million mid-year reduction Iowa State received earlier this month represents about 3.3 percent of state operating support this year and is a permanent cut.

Leath said "the very modest increase" in operational support would help to:

  • Lower the student-to-faculty ratio by recruiting and retaining additional faculty for high-impact and high-enrollment programs
  • Invest in initiatives that promote student academic success as well as their health, wellness and safety
  • Invest in additional student financial literacy strategies to reduce debt at graduation. He said the percent of undergraduates who take out loans has declined about 7 percent since 2008.
  • Enhance online technology infrastructure and upgrade classroom and laboratory spaces

"While we are sensitive to the state’s economic conditions, we really need to do something," Leath said. "A 2 percent increase is still far from what we need to even maintain the status quo with respect to quality.

"The financial burden has shifted to the students and their families, and we're really concerned," he added.

Leath noted that, even with approved tuition increases next year of 2 percent for resident undergraduates and 3 percent for all other students, Iowa State will remain the most affordable university among its 11-member peer group.

"In fact, we could raise tuition as much as 8 percent for resident undergraduates and as much as 10 percent for nonresident undergraduates, and still be the most affordable university in the group," he told legislators.

Facility request

Leath also reiterated Iowa State's request for $100 million in state support, spread over five years, to replace the state Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the Veterinary Medicine campus with a state-of-the-art, stand-alone facility. While it processes more than 1.5 million diagnostic tests annually in support of the state's animal agriculture industry, the current building is crowded and deficient in the areas of biocontainment and biosafety, he said.

Other messages

During his presentation, Leath also made several points about Iowa State's sound management of state funds. They included:

Fewer state dollars per student. During Iowa State's eight consecutive years of record growth (2008-16), the general university appropriation per resident student has plunged by 29 percent, from $12,705 per student in 2008 to $9,012 this year, factoring in the $8 million mid-year reduction. That's almost $3,700 less for every resident student than when the enrollment growth began.

Administrative efficiency. "There's a big misconception that much of our budget is spent on administrative costs and that our administrative spending is bloated or excessive," Leath said, but Iowa State takes pride in operating as efficiently as possible. In 2009, Iowa State spent just over $1,600 per student on administrative costs. Last year (2015), the university spent $1,833 per student. The average among Iowa State's 11-member peer group last year was $3,373 per student in administrative spending. The average per-student spending among all land-grant universities was $5,369.

Leath also cited a 2012 Wall Street Journal article that reviewed administrative spending at more than 70 public universities and ranked Iowa State as the seventh most efficient.

Success markers. In spite of declining state support at a time of climbing enrollment, Iowa State is successfully educating students.

  • The one-year student retention rate (for fall 2015 entering freshmen) has risen to 88.1 percent, the highest noted in data going back to the early 1980s
  • The six-year graduation rate for the most recent class (entering fall 2010) is at 74.3 percent, also a record in this 35+-year history
  • Twenty-four faculty resigned during fiscal year 2016, the second-lowest number of resignations in the past decade, behind 23 resignations in FY13.
  • For the third straight year, the student placement rate upon graduation is 95 percent.