CEDAR FALLS — Additional funding being sought by the University of Northern Iowa may be critical to filling the state’s workforce needs.
That’s the message UNI President Mark Nook delivered Friday during a press briefing on the university’s request for $4 million in new general education support in the next state budget and additional funding to expand and renovate the Industrial Technology Center.
“The biggest economic challenge facing the state of Iowa is that we have 20,000 more job openings than we have unemployed people,” Nook said. “That means we have to find ways to get more people into this state and a bigger percentage of our people into the work-force.”
Iowa Workforce Development statistics show Iowa’s greatest needs for jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees are in education, accounting and business, which Nook noted was UNI’s “sweet spot.”
Some 85 percent of in-state UNI students remain in Iowa after graduation, while 50 percent of out-of-state students take their first job in Iowa. Nook said that highlights the school’s role in helping solve the state’s work-
But a key to growing what has been declining enrollment at UNI requires keeping tuition increases in check, which will make it more competitive compared to both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University as well as its peers in surrounding states.
Nook said universities comparable to UNI typically have lower tuition and fees than the research universities in their state, while UNI has roughly the same price as Iowa and Iowa State.
“We are really looking critically at how we make sure we’ve got our price point right,” he said. “Right now, I believe that we’re a little bit high.”
The state Board of Regents has generally supported UNI’s plan to seek $4 million annually over the next five years from the Legislature to offset potential tuition increases.
“We’re trying to keep our tuition flat … but that’s going to take some help from the state,” he said. “If we can get $4 million a year we should be able to hold our tuition each year under a percent and as close to zero as possible.”
UNI is hoping to boost its enrollment to 13,500 students over that time by becoming more affordable and through other marketing efforts. The university’s enrollment peaked at 14,070 students in 2001 but dipped to 11,212 students this fall.
Along with $4 million to boost UNI’s general education funding to $99.71 million next year, the university is asking the Legislature for $2.2 million to begin planning an design for the modernization of the Industrial Technology Center.
The money is part of a three-year, $38 million commitment the school is seeking to renovate the vintage 1974 building and construct a 47,829-square-foot addition. The ITC houses technology education programs whose graduates are in high demand across the state, Nook said.
“It is a fairly large request,” he said. “But it’s an important request for the state’s economy, especially the manufacturing and construction trades.”
Nook has been discussing UNI’s needs with legislators across the state and expressed hope that his message was resonating with those who ultimately determine whether the school gets the funding it is seeking.