Regents approve launch of free speech survey

Nine months after it was established, the state Board of Regents' free speech committee has approved a survey to be administered to all employees and students at Iowa's three public universities (Iowa State and the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa) every other year. A link to the survey -- slightly different versions for students and employees -- was distributed across campus Tuesday. The deadline to submit it is Dec. 1. It takes about five minutes to complete, and asks questions about the individual's experiences with and perceptions about their university's environment for free speech.

A team, led by board office staff with representatives from the three universities, developed the survey this fall. The biennial survey was one of 10 recommendations an ad hoc regents team proposed last February. A standing free speech committee on the board and annual free speech training on the regent campuses were two others. A training module, being developed by Boston-based Six Red Marbles for the regent universities and Iowa's 15 community colleges, will be rolled out in the spring semester.

Responding to federal COVID-19 requirements

Also at its Nov. 4 meeting, the board granted authority to president Mike Richards to provide direction to the regent schools for complying with the requirements of President Joe Biden's executive order 14042 -- or other state or federal requirements -- related to COVID-19-mitigating face masks, vaccination and physical distancing in the workplace. With several legal challenges to federal order 14042 in play, it's not clear yet what that direction will be. Any guidance Richards provides would be subject to full board ratification at the next scheduled meeting.

On the same topic, the board approved a provision for its policy manual that provides employees several possibilities for exemption from the executive order, including religious, moral or ethical beliefs that "are sincerely held." Included in a new Oct. 29 state law and referenced in the policy manual provision, an employee's belief that receiving the vaccine would harm their health and well-being, or that of a person living with them, also is grounds for exemption.

Annual enrollment report: Fifth year of a decline

In his annual enrollment highlights report, the board's associate chief academic officer Jason Pontius said the 2021-22 academic year marks the fifth straight year of declining enrollment across all three regent universities, a combined drop of 2.5% from last fall to this fall. Nationally, the average decline for four-year public universities this fall is 2.3%, he said. Iowa State's decline from fall 2020 is 3.5%. However, he noted the freshman classes grew at all three universities this fall over fall 2020, including an Iowa State uptick of 316 freshmen (6.2%) over last fall.

The reason for the smaller enrollments, he said, is that regent universities have been graduating the large classes that entered 2013-16 and replacing them with smaller classes. Sophomore and junior classes are smaller right now, Pontius said.

"If we can keep that [first year] growth up, enrollment numbers will start rising again," he said.

International student numbers also are a factor, he added, seen most keenly in falling enrollment from China (1,796 at Iowa State in fall 2015 to 638 this fall). Iowa State's total international enrollment peaked at 4,199 students in fall 2017, and was 2,533 this fall, a 40% decline.

He addressed several theories for the enrollment decline, but indicated why most aren't contributing factors. They include:

  • Iowa high school graduates aren't leaving the state more frequently. Iowa consistently keeps about 87% of its high school graduates in state, he said. An increase since 2016 in Iowa students going to college in South Dakota actually started reversing itself in fall 2019.
  • Carleton College economics professor Nathan Grawe in 2018 predicted an "enrollment cliff" by 2026. Grawe's Higher Education Demand Index uses demographic factors to project demand for higher education and attendance probability. Applying Grawe's methodology to Iowa's K-12 data, Pontius thinks the impact in Iowa -- roughly 6% losses in high school graduates from 2025 to 2030 -- won't be as game-changing as in other parts of the country.
  • Male students are forgoing hiring education, but it's not a new trend. Women passed men in 1979 as the student majority in higher education and have outpaced men every year since then, Pontius said.
  • Community college (CC) transfer numbers are declining. Iowa's community colleges experienced a 12.6% drop in enrollment from 2013 to 2020, and community college transfers to Iowa's public universities declined 28% during that window. Pontius said somewhere between 30% and 50% of CC students each year are high school students taking college courses -- and not transfer candidates for a few years.
  • The regent universities aren't losing market share to other options in higher ed. Iowa high school graduates increasingly are choosing to not go to college after graduation (see table below). Pontius said submitting a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application is one of the strongest indicators of intent to go to college, and the filing rate has been 4-5% lower among Iowa public high school seniors since 2018.


Market shares: What Iowa high school graduates chose, 2013-19


Regent U

In-state private college

Iowa CC

Out of state options

No college











































Source: National Student Clearinghouse


Faculty senator comments

For the second consecutive board meeting, Faculty Senate president Andrea Wheeler, architecture, and president-elect Jon Perkins, accounting, spoke during the public comment period, asking for a collaborative role for faculty in the board's decision-making process.

"I ask the board for more regular opportunities to collaborate, to speak, to present to you and to sustain our communication, working together in atmospheres of mutual trust and respect," Wheeler said.

Acknowledging faculty representation on some regent task forces, Perkins noted the public comment period at board meetings wasn't "a particularly effective venue for the type of communication we seek. We're speaking to you, not with you."

He said faculty would welcome time to "regularly discuss faculty challenges and successes with the board in a more formal setting, such as the academic affairs committee, and a more informal setting, such as lunch."

The guidelines for the public comment period is that board members listen but don't respond to comments.

Other ISU items

In other business, the board approved:

  • Professional development requests for the 2022-23 academic year for 38 faculty. It includes 12 full 2022-23 academic year plans and 26 for either fall or spring semester.
  • A 20-year partnership between Iowa State and Alliant Energy for a 900-kilowatt solar farm on university land near teaching and research farms south of Ames. At full capacity, 900 kilowatts could power 230 homes for a year. Alliant Energy will construct, operate, maintain and own all equipment. Construction could begin in late 2022. Instead of rent from Alliant, the university will earn federal Clean Air Act renewable energy credits, which it will use for electricity at nearby farms. The university's five-year plan for sustainability in operations calls for tripling the use of renewable energy.
  • An athletics department plan to connect and enlarge the parking lots north of Scheman and west of Fisher Theatre into an L-shaped lot that adds 380 stalls to this corner and includes a designated drop-off area between Fisher and Stephens Auditorium. The estimated cost, $5.5 million, will be covered by athletics department funds. The timeline to complete the new lot is next summer.
  • A second athletics department plan to convert the grass field between the southeast recreation fields and Coldwater Golf Links to a lighted, gravel lot with a capacity for 330 RVs on football game days. Each stall will have a concrete pad and electrical hookup. The estimated $8.1 million cost includes a pedestrian bridge over Worle Creek and pathway for football fans parking off S. 16th Street. This project and the under-construction gateway pedestrian bridge over University Boulevard should be ready for the 2022 football season.