Presenting the university's annual appropriations request to the Legislature Feb. 21, President Wendy Wintersteen said funding for public higher education shouldn't be viewed as a cost, but an investment in the state's economic health. Wintersteen and her regent institution peers testified this year before the House Appropriations Committee.
Iowa State's state funding proposal for the year that begins July 1 hasn't changed since September and features two requests for new funds:
- $5 million in additional operating support, all of which would be used for resident undergraduate financial aid. Sixty percent of ISU undergraduates (more than 18,200 students) come from Iowa, she noted.
- A five-year, $100 million commitment to replacing the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory with a stand-alone, state-of-the-art facility. The estimated total cost for the project is $124 million.
As the state's only full-service animal diagnostic lab, Wintersteen said the VDL plays a critical role in securing Iowa's $32.5 billion animal agriculture industry. The site visit team that accredited the lab last fall identified significant concerns about the physical limitations of the lab, raising doubt about another accreditation, she said.
Wintersteen said Iowa State's financial challenge is shaped by three developments:
- Enrollment growth of nearly 10,000 students since 2009
- Resident undergraduate tuition that has been the same for seven of the last 12 semesters
- State base operating support that is trending downward, including an $11.6 million reduction from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017
One result has been a "huge jump" in the faculty teaching load in the last decade, on average, 71 percent. Teaching more students and more credit hours is a good thing, to a point, Wintersteen said.
"But we've reached the point where we've stretched the university too thin. Our faculty and staff are maxed out," she said. "We are tipping the balance between efficiency, educational quality and accessibility."
Unique role in the state
Wintersteen said Iowa State's land-grant status, particularly its responsibility to share and apply the knowledge it creates, provides unique value for the state. She cited entrepreneurial programming that creates jobs and attracts external funding, research and service that assists existing businesses in every Iowa county and resources for Iowansof all ages through ISU Extension and Outreach.
However, the university's greatest economic asset is its graduating students, Wintersteen, said. Of last May's 4,860 graduates, 52 percent stayed in Iowa. Fifty-six percent of the student body is majoring in agriculture or STEM fields, highly valuable to the state's future workforce.
"As a land-grant institution, we derive our value by helping Iowans and the state be successful," Wintersteen said. "This has been our mission for 160 years, and it is as relevant and critical today as it ever has been."