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DES MOINES — For the first time in a couple of challenging years scarred by midyear funding cuts, de-appropriations and below-par appropriations, Iowa’s governor is recommending the state’s public universities receive all the money they’re requesting for the next budget year.

The Board of Regents earlier this fall requested an $18 million bump in general education support for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The schools proposed splitting the extra money with $7 million both to the UI and ISU and $4 million to UNI.

All three vowed to use the funds — if ultimately allocated — for student financial aid.

Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled a budget proposal Tuesday that boosted general education support for each of those universities by the amount they requested — bucking lesser support or even disinvestment that has plagued the board in recent years.

“We are extremely pleased that the governor has recommended fully funding our universities’ general operating request of $18 million,” regents Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement. “With this level of funding, our universities can continue to provide the accessible, top-quality education that Iowa students deserve.”

The University of Northern Iowa released a statement Wednesday saying it is “grateful” for Reynolds’ support for an additional $4 million for the UNI fiscal year 2020 budget, as well as multi-year funding for the renovation and expansion of UNI’s Industrial Technology Center.

“If the additional $4 million in state funding is approved by the Legislature and the Governor, we would not increase resident tuition next year, which would allow us to become more competitive with our peer institutions,” the statement reads.

Should lawmakers, who must vote on the budget, take her recommendation, regents have vowed to hold next year’s tuition increases for resident undergraduates to 3 percent.

If the state rejects Reynolds’ recommendation and falls short of the board’s requested bump, the universities have said they’ll raise tuition further to make up the difference they say is needed to achieve their strategic goals — including decreasing student debt and increasing enrollment among first-generation and minority students.

“The state of Iowa has no financial aid funding designated solely for students attending Iowa’s public universities,” according to the board’s request in September. “When comparing states by the percent of need-based aid awarded to students at public institutions, Iowa is last in the country.”

Regardless of state support, UI and ISU administrators have advocated for the need to increase tuition — which, at least for resident undergraduate students, was frozen for several years. Now, considering the universities charge far less than their peers and have suffered recent cuts, they have a dire revenue need and plenty of rate-hike space before losing their competitive edge, administrators say.

UNI, on the other hand, is hoping to keep its costs down, as it already charges on par with peers and needs to maintain a competitive advantage. Because most of its students come from within Iowa — meaning they pay less in tuition than other students — state aid is even more paramount in the school’s success.

“The conversation about differential tuition rates for UNI, to make it more competitive, that makes a lot of sense,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, recently said. “It’s about making sure these institutions are great and have great people at them.”

Before an $8.3 million appropriations bump for the current budget year that began July 1, the regents had lost more than $40 million in state support since the start of the 2017 budget year.

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