Iowa regents consider more private collaboration

Regents listen to an Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the Levitt Center for University Advancement in Iowa City on Thursday, June 3, 2021. The regents heard from the three presidents of the public universities during the open session. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

As the Board of Regents’ latest five-year strategic plan draws to a close, higher education across the country, such as in Iowa, is experiencing widespread disruption and is ready for a fresh start.

“It’s time to say, ‘We have been really touched, we have to make changes,” Paul N. Friga, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor and higher education consultant, told the Nine Volunteer Regents. of Iowa for a five-hour meeting Friday to develop a 2022-2027 strategic plan.

“Make big, big changes while you can,” he said. “Then you come out positive with new investments, new programs, new energy, and you can capture a bigger share and be a lot better prepared for the future. “

Some of the disruptions Regents said they need to address in their new five-year plan include declining enrollment, declining state investment, increased reliance on digital learning, growing demand for mental health services, changes demographic and the need for programmatic efficiency.

“I think we need to start looking at higher education differently when it comes to sources of income, because I don’t see state funding going back to where it was in previous years,” Regent Jim said. Lindenmayer. “And I don’t think we can continue to depend on tuition fees like we are. I think we need to start looking for private resources.

He noted that “private” has “always been kind of a dirty word” in public higher education. “But I think if we’re going to fund them adequately, we’re going to have to look at these types of flows somehow,” he said.

University collaborations with private entities – like the $ 1.165 billion public services partnership the University of Iowa recently entered into – cannot entirely replace state credits and tuition revenue, which must continue to be part of the funding formula, said Regent David Barker.

“Higher tuition fees will have to be part of the mix,” Barker said. “If credits don’t go up and our costs go up, tuition fees are going to have to go up.

But with access and affordability still a top priority, the board’s next strategic plan could allow revenue streams “to be a bit more dynamic,” said the board’s executive director, Mark Braun. “But don’t shy away from state support or moderate tuition fee increases.”

Highlighting the UI’s ‘incredibly successful’ public-private partnership for the operation of its public services – which has enabled the UI to secure funds for the creation of an educational endowment – Braun asked the regents to they had to promote the concept more explicitly in the strategic plan.

Noting that this term can be applied broadly, not only to operational collaboration, but also to research and collaboration with industry, Regent Nancy Dunkel said, “If you put that into our strategic plan, it gives universities the green light to do even more. “

This would show that the board encourages appropriate and supervised public-private partnerships that foster research, financial and operational collaboration, said board chairman Mike Richards.

Nonetheless, Dunkel urged caution. “We don’t want the biggest prize pool to influence education,” she said. “So it has to be sort of weighed, monitored appropriately and transparently. “

Better communication

Citing a recent survey the board circulated to its own members as well as some students, faculty, staff, administrators, legislators and others questioning the board’s mission and priorities, Braun stressed the need for more transparency or communication.

“Is this something we need to step up in the next strategic plan? ” He asked. “Communicate more, provide more material, more opportunities for engagement, not only with legislators but with the public, with faculty, staff and students.”

The board received the lowest scores for appropriate stakeholder engagement, according to the survey, which found that only half of respondents agreed that the board had done so. Looking specifically at how the council engages external stakeholders – like lawmakers and the governor – only half of lawmakers or state employees who responded said the regents did so in an appropriate manner.

‘Be ruthless’

Highlighting trends in higher education that the board will need to take into account when developing the strategic plan, consultant Friga warned that enrollments were down; more and more campuses are freezing tuition fees or slowing increases; and many have oversized facilities.

“Most higher education institutions have over-invested in physical infrastructure, over-invested in enrollment,” he said. “We have oversupply… We already have millions and millions of built-in excess capacity. “

Friga warned that the regents will have to make sometimes difficult decisions to weather the coming storm. He urged the board to diversify its universities – to make them stand out and expand their pool of student perspectives in the adult and working population.

“I would advise you to get into the associate’s degree business,” he said of the four-year campuses in Iowa that offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. “And tackling the adult population as a serious effort,” advised Friga, urging the elimination of redundant services and programs.

“We have a lot of transactional people on our campuses, and a lot of new technology will allow you to eliminate these kinds of positions,” he said. “So you must be ruthless with this.”

Academic program reviews “will require even more courage.”

“Let’s say 10 percent is going to be cut off,” he said. “And you’re going to use criteria like enrollment, spending per student, direct and indirect costs, market demand.”

Encouraging the regents and their universities to also launch new innovative programs, Friga told them to be “aggressive about this”.

“And, by the way, they’re going to be really unhappy with that,” he said. “Because, once again, no faculty wants their program to be eliminated. But some of them should be eliminated. It’s just that we have a hard time saying no to programs once they start.

Regents and staff will then draft a new strategic plan focusing on its public service, civic responsibility, and academic and research missions with the hope of bringing something to public attention in November.

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