Financial losses for Iowa regent universities due to COVID-19 exceed $185 million

After federal funding, the University of Iowa lost millions while providing campus safety, health precautions, building improvements, and refunds for students and faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Old Capitol building is seen from the T. Anne Cleary on Feb. 10, 2021.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

The three state Board of Regents-governed universities collectively lost an estimated net $185.63 million since March 2020 as a result of tuition revenue loss, refunds to students, COVID-19 response expenses, and state budget cuts.

The net total included federal funding aid like the CARES Act and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Universities are still left with millions in unfunded losses from the financial hardships of COVID-19, however.

Regents’ Senior Communications Director Josh Lehman wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that, like many sectors of the economy, Iowa’s regent universities have undergone massive disruptions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the universities have been forced to adapt their educational environments based on current conditions.

“The presence [of] COVID-19 has had a great impact on the institutions financially, with significantly lower revenues and increased expenses,” Lehman wrote. “Iowa’s Regent Universities are among the best in the nation, and despite challenges, must continue to deliver the first-class education that our students deserve.”

After rounds of federal stimulus funding, the UI’s estimated $83.4 million revenue loss during the COVID-19 pandemic so far is because of a $50 million loss in UI athletics, $13.7 million in refunds and lost revenue, reductions of $14.8 million in the General Education Fund for tuition revenue compared to fiscal 2020, and a reduction of $3.1 million in state general fund allocations. These numbers do not include data for UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Infographic by Eleanor Hildebrandt/The Daily Iowan

UI President Bruce Harreld said at a regents’ meeting in April that, without predictable financial commitment from the state, it is difficult for the UI to maintain the excellence Iowans expect from it.

Since March, the UI — with UIHC — has spent an estimated $32.7 million on COVID-19-related expenses, but has asked for reimbursements through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to documents provided by the university.

The UI received $5,919,836 in the spring of 2020 and $6,021,684 from the State of Iowa CARES Act, 25 percent of which was not covered by FEMA.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended a $15 million boost for the regents’ state fiscal 2022 budget, which underfunds the $26 million request from the regents to assist Iowa’s three public universities.

As previously reported by the DI, the Iowa Legislature cut the regents’ state appropriations by $8 million dollars in June. The regents asked lawmakers to restore the cut and add another $18 million to their budgets.

Infographic by Eleanor Hildebrandt/The Daily Iowan

Iowa State University lost an estimated $90.2 million to the general COVID-19 impact and state reductions, according to documents provided to the DI.

Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen said the lost revenue from the beginning of the pandemic in March to present will “likely grow this spring,” at an Iowa lawmakers meeting on Feb. 3.

The University of Northern Iowa lost an estimated net of $12.03 million due to COVID-19 and state reductions since last year

Going forward, the regent institutions will continue to need to be flexible and adapt to current conditions on their campuses, Lehman wrote.

“As the health and safety of our university communities is the top priority, many campus policies and procedures have been implemented so the universities can continue delivering on their institutional missions, even if in a different way,” Lehman wrote.