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Regents leaders say board is open to cuts at UNI

Diane Heldt, CR Gazette –

Regents leaders said they’ve asked University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen to look at academic consolidations, outsourcing and any other budget-cutting measures and come to the state Board of Regents with a plan.

Allen in a campus email Thursday said UNI officials are looking at many options, including academic program closures, possible closure of the UNI Museum and the Malcolm Price Lab School and the outsourcing of UNI campus police, to find a sustainable university budget model for future years.

After a taping of “Iowa Press” for Iowa Public Television on Friday, Regents President Craig Lang and President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter said they are comfortable having those options on the table.

“We’ve asked Ben to look at the university so it will be affordable in the future, even putting colleges together, whatever services he had to outsource, and come back to us with a plan, and then the board of regents will look at that plan,” Lang, of Brooklyn said. “Ben thinks he can put together a college in the future that’s going to be sustainable. That’s what’s really important.”

The UNI budget restructuring must be strategic and focus on continuing to improve the things that UNI is and can be great at, Rastetter, of Alden, said. If there are courses with few students, are those critical to the university or should those resources be put toward more critical programs, Rastetter asked.

“It illustrates that the universities are going through a continuous process on how they improve themselves,” Rastetter said during the show taping.

The board has asked for solutions, Lang said, including in regards to the Malcolm Price Lab School, a clinical teacher education and research school on the UNI campus. They are looking for a more affordable model to offer that program, he said.

“Right now we want to make sure the plan is right before we even start talking about closing the school, but that (plan) is part of his strategy,” Lang said.

A reduction of about $20 million in state funding to UNI in recent years, coupled with the school’s heavy reliance on in-state students, has led officials to study ways to reduce and reallocate the budget for the long-term, as state funding continues to make up a smaller portion of the budget.

When asked during the “Iowa Press” taping if UNI is a “bad business model,” given that 92 percent of its students are from Iowa and out-of-state students pay much higher tuition rates, Lang and Rastetter said UNI’s model differs from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, but it’s important to the state. The regents recognized that by requesting an additional $4 million in annual state funding for UNI, Rastetter said.

The regents leaders again restated their stance that they will work with the Legislature through the budget process in the hopes the board won’t have to revisit the 3.75 percent tuition increase already approved for next fall. The Iowa House budget is much less favorable to higher education than either the Senate plan or Gov. Terry Branstad’s recommendation, which was a $20 million increase.

“We’re going to fight to the end. We’re going to negotiate clear to the end,” Lang said, noting the board wants to avoid a higher increase.

A student-led “roadshow” of the state is planned, to promote the universities and the importance of state funding, Lang said.

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