Regent presidents make case for additional state support

President Wendy Wintersteen summarized how Iowa State would invest $12 million in additional state funding, if it received it next year, to members of the Legislature's Education Appropriations Subcommittee Monday. Iowa State requested a $12 million bump to this year's $174.1 million in general university operating funds from the state. In total, the three regent universities seek $32 million in additional funding.

Wintersteen, Iowa president Barbara Wilson and Northern Iowa president Mark Nook made their annual pitch at the State Capitol Feb. 13. Wintersteen told legislators Iowa State's proposal features five requests:

  • $4 million to develop "degrees of the future" to address the state's workforce needs. Recent examples have included cybersecurity engineering, business analytics, artificial intelligence and human resources management. She noted that 11% of ISU undergraduates are in degree programs related to cyber, including electrical and software engineering or computer science. Iowa State offers a degree program relevant to 49 of the state's 50 "hot jobs," she said.
  • $2 million to leverage private support and expand need-based aid for first-generation students, who comprise 23% of all ISU undergraduates.
  • $3 million to, in collaboration with the Critical Materials Institute at Ames National Laboratory, support rare earth independence for the U.S., including developing new ways to recycle computer hard drives, creating magnets from recycled rare earth materials and establishing a recycling program at the lab to more quickly develop recycling technologies.
  • $2 million to advance digital agriculture and manufacturing. Examples include hands-on clinics for farmers to maximize their modern machinery, cybersecurity assistance for Iowa firms and support for ISU's digital ag innovation team that works with Iowa's large agribusinesses.
  • $1 million to strengthen rural Iowans' vitality and resiliency. Funds would expand extension and outreach efforts in mental health, technical assistance and affordable housing.

Wintersteen thanked Gov. Kim Reynolds for allocating $40 million for phase II of the state Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. She noted Iowa State still seeks $22.5 million in state support over multiple years for the estimated $66.5 million second phase. Rounding out the funding would be $2.7 million in university funds and $1.3 million in private gifts.


Subcommittee members asked the presidents some funding-related questions, on topics such as efforts to control costs, the escalating cost to students and families, the variables in adding or discontinuing academic degree programs, and efficiency.

On the subject of administrative costs, Wintersteen said Iowa's public universities are lean operations in a national comparison.

"All three have a very clear focus on efficiency and doing everything in our power to run the most efficient institution that we can. It's a goal of the state Board of Regents and a goal of each of our administrative team members," she said.

In a national list capturing a five-year average (FY 2017-21) of universities' administrative efficiency, measured in dollars spent on administrative costs per student FTE, all three Iowa universities rank in the lower third. With a national range of $1,348 to $7,724 per student FTE, the three regent universities' five-year average ranged from $2,373-$2,771.

Legislative members also asked questions about expenditures on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming, as well as the "recent" need for programming.

Wintersteen told committee members inclusion programming isn't new and Iowa State has provided it for decades. She noted diversity and inclusion efforts serve a very broad student audience, including ethnically diverse students, low-income students, first-generation students, veteran students, and students with learning disabilities, among others.

"It's about shepherding every student so they feel they belong and can be successful," she said. The payback for those efforts is better student retention, higher graduation rates and greater efficiency in the years it takes students to complete their degrees -- down to 4.18 years at Iowa State.

Wilson added that employers ask for graduates that are trained to lead in a diverse world and prepared to work on diverse teams in locations around the globe.

Regarding the salaries of DEI leaders at the regent schools, Wintersteen said the universities operate in a competitive, national job market when they recruit campus leaders, including those in charge of DEI programs.

"It's an important investment we make as we try to bring in the very best to serve our students, focus on student success and work with our faculty and staff," she said.