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Regents seek $1 million from state for universities' mental health needs

Gazette - 9/15/2022

Sep. 15—CEDAR FALLS — After talking with student leaders over breakfast Thursday about challenges their campuses are facing, Iowa regents just hours later upped their state funding request by $1 million to address mounting mental health needs and to support expanded mental health services.

The extra $1 million — which, if granted, would go straight to the board office for allocation across the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa campuses — brings the regents' total education appropriations ask for the next budget year to $611.5 million.

That total represents a $35.7 million bump over the board's current $575.9 million in education appropriations, marking its steepest requested increase in state funding in nearly a decade.

"In recognition of the concerns related to the need for additional mental health services expressed by our student leaders at the breakfast this morning, I'd like to propose an amendment to this request," Regent Abby Crow said just before the board voted on its legislative funding request for the next budget year, which starts July 1, 2023.

Crow is the one student regent on the nine-member board, currently enrolled at UI and working as a nursing assistant at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

During Thursday's board meeting, presidents of each of Iowa's public universities spoke about how they would use their cut of the funding increase, should lawmakers grant it — something that hasn't happened in full in years.

Excluding the extra $1 million for mental health services, the board is proposing for fiscal 2024 an additional $12 million in new higher education support each for UI and ISU and $8 million in new higher education funds for UNI.

UNI request

In addition to moderate increases in support for its special schools' operations, the board also is asking for $2 million in new funding for UNI's recently-launched community college collaboration — allowing Iowans who've earned an associate degree from any of the state's 15 community colleges to earn a bachelor's degree from UNI by taking courses online.

Prior to its UNI@IACC initiative launch over the summer — which already has increased UNI's transfer numbers this fall — the Cedar Falls campus had established relationships with four community colleges, including Des Moines Area Community College and Indian Hills Community College.

If granted, that extra $2 million would enable UNI to add student support services at four additional community colleges focused on plugging students into the new program, UNI President Mark Nook told the regents Thursday.

As for its $8 million more in higher education appropriations, UNI committed to use half to further its teacher-training programming — scaling up recruitment of future educators to meet the teacher shortage in Iowa.

The other half would go to help further differentiate its tuition from UI and Iowa State — as UNI aims to compete less with those sister institutions and more with other regional institutes in neighboring states that more closely align with its model.

Where UNI's resident undergraduate tuition and fees total is only $832 below UI and Iowa State, the difference in rates between public research universities and regional comprehensive institutions in Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin — for example — ranges from nearly $3,300 to $5,500.

"We want to continue to differentiate ourselves in tuition, and the $4 million that we're asking for tuition differentiation is to help us keep our tuition as low as possible," Nook said. "We would really love to keep that flat, if at all possible, but it does depend on having the resources to be able to meet the commitments that we have to our students — to provide them a high-quality education."

UI and ISU request

Should the state grant UI its full $12 million appropriations increase, UI President Barbara Wilson on Thursday said her institution would use a big chunk of that — $7 million — to address the nursing shortage in Iowa.

A majority $6 million would go toward renovating and increasing its nursing simulation training space, with another $1 million going toward hiring 10 new faculty, with the goal of adding 48 nursing students a year. The hope, Wilson said, is to have 208 students per graduating class by 2026 — amounting to a 30 percent increase over four years.

"We know we can do that with the right funding and the right support on the faculty and simulation side," she said.

UI promises to commit the other $5 million in increased appropriations to educating more first-generation students — the growing sector of Iowa's population angling to be the first in their family to attain a postsecondary degree.

Iowa State, in discussing its plans for $12 million in new funding, also would spend some on supporting first-generation students — about $2 million. Another $4 million would support ISU students pursuing in-demand programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; $1 million would support mental health needs and economic growth; and the remaining $5 million would support research and innovation in specific areas of ISU expertise.

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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