Wintersteen talks appropriations, COVID challenges, tenure with legislators

President Wendy Wintersteen emphasized Iowa State's role in preparing a well-trained workforce and growing Iowa's economy during her annual funding request to the Legislature's joint education appropriations subcommittee Feb. 3.

She cited many examples that define an Iowa State education and make Iowa State graduates especially useful to the state and its employers:

  • No. 11 national ranking among more than 300 public and private universities for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs, according to the latest ranking by the Princeton Review.
  • The “Innovate at Iowa State” brand represents the university's growing national leadership in preparing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and is a key differentiator. "No other university is doing student innovation on this scale," she said.
  • More than half of ISU students are enrolled in a STEM field.
  • Students have hands-on, experiential and leadership opportunities outside the classroom through activities like undergraduate research, 900 student clubs and organizations, and 90 learning communities.

"The comprehensive ISU experience -- both in and outside the classroom -- ensures that ISU graduates are workforce-ready," Wintersteen said.

She noted that ISU students are graduating more quickly than ever, with the average time to complete a bachelor's degree now down to 4.4 years.

The request

Iowa State's funding request to the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins July 1 remains unchanged from what the state Board of Regents sent to the state in October:

  • Restore the $3.2 million state reduction to the current operating budget.
  • Increase the general education appropriation $7 million.
  • Increase economic development funding $2.175 to support three platforms (biobased chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, and vaccines and immunotherapy) assigned to Iowa State to spur commercialization efforts and support the state’s bioeconomy. The University of Iowa is pursuing a medical devices initiative.

"We are proud of the value we provide to our students and all Iowans," Wintersteen said. "Now, more than ever, the state’s investment in Iowa State University and public higher education is critically important."

Economic impact of the pandemic

While flat tuition rates, lower student enrollment and less state support hurt Iowa State's financial stability, Wintersteen told legislators the pandemic has caused "extraordinary financial challenges." She said the combination of additional costs and lost revenue (March-December) currently stands at about $90 million and likely will grow this spring.


COVID-19 financial impact and other revenue losses

Lost revenues (canceled events, lost sales)

-$68.6 million

COVID response costs (testing, cleaning)

-$7.4 million

Refunds to students*

-$21 million

Tuition revenue drop

-$33.4 million

FY21 State operating reduction

-$3.2 million

Other reductions (investment income, etc.)

-$4.6 million


-$138.2 million

Estimated savings**

$15 million

2020 Federal CARES Act

$10.8 million

State GEER fund

$0.5 million

2021 Federal CRRSAA Act

(estimate) $21.6 million


-$90.3 million

*Examples include study-abroad programs shortened or canceled, course fees, residence and dining contracts
**Examples include travel, food, student labor


Wintersteen also summarized strategies implemented on campus this year to help meet the deficit, including:

  • Reduce FY21 budgets 5% for all campus units.
  • Halt performance-based salary increases for faculty and staff, with the exception of contract increases for Merit staff.
  • Reduce salaries of the president, athletics staff for FY21.
  • Don't renew some term appointments, leave vacant positions open.
  • Reduce the university's TIAA retirement match by 2 percentage points Sept. 1-June 30.
  • Increase health care premiums and make modifications to the plan, effective Jan. 1.
  • Offer a retirement incentive program (application window closes March 1).

Tenure for faculty

In response to a question from Rep. Cindy Winckler, Davenport, about the repercussions if tenure disappeared from Iowa's public universities, Wintersteen said it would be difficult to recruit -- or keep -- exceptional faculty members.

"Faculty members won't come here," she said. "It's not so much that they need the protection, but why would they come here when they could go to Wisconsin or Purdue or Illinois? It's about the market, and I just won't be able to compete in the market.

"And I will lose faculty because they will see it as an embarrassment that they're at an institution where tenure is prohibited," Wintersteen added. "We compete every day in the market for the very best faculty, and this would hurt us terribly."

Last month, a bill prohibiting tenure at Iowa's three regent universities passed out of an education subcommittee in the Iowa House of Representatives.