DAVID MILES
State of Iowa Board of Regents member David Miles of West Des Moines during their meeting Tuesday, May 1, 2007, at the Iowa Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Brian Ray) BRIAN RAY

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- State budget cuts to Iowa's regent universities have been particularly hard on the University of Northern Iowa, which differs from the other two state universities in its reliance on state funding and larger enrollment of in-state students, who pay much less than students from outside Iowa.

In the past several years, UNI has cut its baseball program, at least 16 academic programs, a vice president position and eliminated about 75 jobs via early retirement and attrition in response to a loss of about $20 million in state funding.

Additional state cuts expected for next year could amount to $4 million to $7 million less for UNI in 2011-12, which means everything is on the table, UNI President Ben Allen said.

It's likely graduate programs not among the university's best will face the ax, he said, as officials make protecting undergraduate offerings and top graduate programs the priority. Large non-academic cuts also will be considered, similar to baseball, he said.

"We are down to either we have to change the way we're doing things drastically or we'll have to quit doing some things," Allen said. "All three universities have been hugely impacted by the budget cuts. But mathematically or financially we are hit harder, so I think in the long run we are impacted more."

That's a message state Board of Regents President David Miles tried to send to a legislative subcommittee this month in lobbying for more state funding for public higher education.

The state cuts to UNI, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have totaled about $118 million in the past three years, Miles said. Because UNI gets a larger portion of its budget from state funding, an equal cut in state money for the three schools is actually more of UNI's budget. And UNI can't rely on large out-of-state student populations to recoup some of that lost money.

"They sort of get both barrels," Miles said. "Overall, they have had to address a bigger gap in total funding than Iowa and Iowa State have."

Funding flexibility

Miles last week said regents may consider seeking more flexibility in their ability to allocate state funding to the universities.

That could happen either through the regents getting a lump sum state appropriation and then allocating money to each university, or by the regents using a more flexible system based on current needs to determine the state budget request for each university before each legislative session.

The board also could consider allowing greater differential tuition among the universities, which works in some states, he said. The UI and ISU are Research I universities and UNI is not.

UNI officials want to increase out-of-state enrollment, which would diversify the student body and grow tuition revenue.

A combination of increased marketing in key cities and the addition of new recruiters in Chicago --- plus a notable basketball victory over Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament --- has UNI's out-of-state applications running 44 percent higher than at this time last year. UNI also will be adding a recruiter in Minneapolis to boost the effort.

Iowa students were 93 percent of fall 2010 undergraduate enrollment at UNI, compared to 70 percent at ISU and 59 percent at the UI. Nonresidents pay two to three times more. Tuition from out-of-state students this year was 58 percent of total tuition revenues at the UI and 55 percent at ISU, compared to just 13 percent of total tuition dollars at UNI.

Student concerns

Incoming UNI students attending orientation this week on the Cedar Falls campus said they worry about losing programs and facing larger class sizes due to budget cuts.

"Bigger classes is definitely a concern for me because I like being close-knit and getting to know people," Cassandra Covemaker, an 18-year-old from Moline, Ill., who will major in accounting, said.

Protecting academic programs and keeping class sizes small enough to maintain the faculty-student interaction that makes UNI special is important, Student Government President Spencer Walrath said. But he also worries funding for student organizations and campus events will dry up. Every Thursday night there is a free movie at the campus union, an event that may not seem important but is an example of college socialization, Walrath, 22, said.

"The money available for those kinds of things is going to disappear," he said. "That impacts the college experience."

Students have already noticed more adjunct professors teaching classes, larger class sizes and professors stretched thin who may cancel office hours, said Walrath, a Cedar Rapids native.

Faculty, too, feel the pressure of larger classes due to the cuts, UNI Faculty Senate Chairwoman Susan Wurtz said. An associate professor in the College of Business, Wurtz said cutting back on writing assignments and essay exams are typical consequences when a professor has more students in class.

"If we're going to force ourselves to go to larger classes, we have got to take a totally honest look at what else has to change," Wurtz said.

Protecting core mission

Academic program cuts so far have been the more "low-hanging fruit," Allen said --- programs with little enrollment and low student demand. But as budget reductions continue, the next level of cuts will impact programs with larger enrollments and larger constituencies of alumni who care, he said.

"It's unfortunate, but those tougher decisions will have a much bigger impact on the state," he said.

Protecting the core undergraduate educational mission and keeping the student-faculty interaction that sets UNI apart are priorities in making cuts, officials said. New technology also could play a role in reducing costs, by helping create a small-classroom feel in a larger classroom environment, Allen said.

And UNI officials will continue to look at efficiencies, such as in purchasing and travel, with ISU and the UI, and more consolidation among the sister institutions. Since 80 percent of the UNI budget is personnel, a new health insurance plan and changes to life insurance have also saved money, Tom Schellhardt, vice president for administration and financial services, said.

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