As Online Ed Booms, Iowa Regents Wary of New Building Projects

Iowa’s public universities are requesting more than $200 million for building projects on their campuses, but the Iowa Board of Regents is asking why new buildings are needed as online learning is booming at the state’s three public universities.

At Iowa’s three public universities, online learning is booming, with enrollment in for-credit distance education programs increasing more than 54% in the past five years. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who vetoed funding for these same projects in June, said that “he feared campus overbuilding as online learning continues to grow.” The board is asking whether universities have considered increases in online learning before making proposal for new building projects, writes Erin Jordan in The Gazette.

“I have to ask this: have we adequately considered an online teaching component?” Regent Milt Dakovich, asked Warren Madden, Iowa State University vice president for business and finance, at a regents committee meeting in Cedar Falls. Dakovich said he believes ISU, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa understand how to use classrooms in conjunction with online learning. “Our three universities have this concept down,” he said.

At a meeting this month in Cedar Falls, the committee will consider nearly $690 million in capital requests from Iowa’s public universities and special schools.

Iowa State University (ISU) is seeking a $55 million for a new biosciences building with a total cost of $80 million. Beate Schmittmann, dean of the ISU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, believes that campus space is necessary despite increase in online learning.

“I think it’s important to understand you still have to bring the students back together to discuss and assimilate the material,” she said. Modern classroom space can be converted from lecture to meeting space and is equipped with technology that allows for student interaction, Schmittmann said.

The University of Iowa (UI) is looking for a $96 million in funding to build a new building for the College of Pharmacy. Provost Barry Butler said that a new building would replace a 1961 structure and allow pharmacy enrollment to increase by 15%.

The university plans to get $70 million in state funding over the next five years for the project with the rest covered by private donations.

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) needs money to for renovation of its Schindler Education Center. The university is seekink nearly $33 million over five years for renovations.

After several years of cuts, a number of states are planning to boost higher education spending this year, and lawmakers are also looking at ways to reign in out-of-control tuition increases by implementing tuition freezes for the campuses making up their public university systems.

Mary Beth Marklein and Michael Auslen write in USA Today that among states that are considering either or both of these measures are Iowa, Nebraska, Montana and Minnesota, where public university administrators have agreed not to raise tuition this year in exchange for higher funding levels. Budget proposals from governors in New Hampshire and California include similar deals for legislators’ consideration.