Editorial: Investing in regent universities helps Iowa thrive

The economic and societal advantages of public universities are too valuable to cut their budgets.


Katie Goodale

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen in Des Moines on April 9, 2019.

DI Editorial Board

Public education is one of the greatest achievements of modern government. All citizens benefit from a more knowledgable population that is better prepared for the future, but the benefits extend beyond skills taught to students. 

A Nov. 14 report delivered to the state Board of Regents showed Iowa financially gains from investment in education, specifically its public universities. The report from Idaho labor-market analytics firm Emsi found the combined contribution to the state economy from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa was $11.8 billion in fiscal 2018. This economic generation comes amid a litany of budget reductions — an excess of $35 million during fiscal 2017 and 2018 — and shows that cutting costs is not in the best interest of Iowans.

RELATED: Report: Iowa regent universities tout $11.8 billion impact on state economy

For every dollar invested in higher education, the Iowa taxpayer receives about $2.90. Roughly 150,000 jobs of a total 2.1 million in Iowa’s workforce are supported through the universities with employment through research, health care, and other fields. About one in every 20 Iowans works thanks to our higher-education institutions. This goes to show that these universities are a public good in the Hawkeye State, and they are worth funding more in future years.

Even without the fiscal benefits, the nonmaterial advantages state-funded education offers are massive. A better-informed, better-taught Iowa is a state more prepared to be successful in the future — enabling state employers to fill positions in professions such as law, engineering, and medicine with college-educated workers. While surely not everyone requires a degree after high school, the collective benefits are irreplaceable.

If Iowa will succeed in the next decade, it must have properly funded education.

Without our higher-education institutions, the Iowa economy and citizenry would suffer. Fewer engineers would solve fewer problems. Fewer health-care professionals would treat fewer patients. Fewer scientists would study methods to fight climate change. We need higher education to thrive as a society.

RELATED: Editorial: Iowa must reinvest in higher education

This is why Iowa must continue to fund its public universities. Not only is the return on the investment nearly threefold, the intangible value added to our state is immense. During Iowa’s last legislative session, state lawmakers thankfully reinstated $12 million in appropriations to them.

Understandably, tough budgetary decisions must be made when revenue falls short, but this report is evidence that public higher education should not be the scapegoat for poor fiscal planning. Hopefully in the 2020 session, lawmakers will maintain that trend of boosting funding rather than further slashing support.

The regent universities are an economic driver for the state, and funding the institutions adequately to ensure they can continue to help the state flourish is something the GOP should be eager to support. If Iowa will succeed in the next decade, it must have properly funded education. We must continue to invest in our universities, and the universities will return the favor.