A conversation with Gregory Geoffroy
The sharp increase in private funds raised for Iowa State University in the last half of 2004 indicate a growing Iowa economy, says ISU President Gregory Geoffroy, which is why he says he’s hopeful the Legislature will approve increased state funding for the school this session.
“The Regents have put together a very aggressive public policy agenda, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to influence the Legislature to fully fund that agenda,” Geoffroy told the Business Record last week. “Hopefully, we’ll be successful in that. I think there will be an increase in funding. How much, I think, is too early to say.”
The Board of Regents is seeking a $40 million annual increase for Iowa’s three state universities, of which ISU would receive approximately $16 million per year for the next four fiscal years. In return for the 7.7 percent increase over current funding, the universities have pledged to match every $2 of additional state spending with $1 in funds reallocated to high-priority areas, and to not raise tuition rates by more than the annual rate of inflation.
“We’ve had four straight years of budget cuts from the state, and that’s made it particularly challenging,” Geoffroy said. “The tuition increases have only made up for about 40 percent of the budget reductions, so we’ve had to reduce services and programs all across the university. Of course, that has an impact. … Looking forward, I think the improvement in Iowa’s economy is going to hopefully mean an end to the budget cuts, and ideally, some reinvestment in public higher education.”
From the private fundraising side of the equation, the news has been upbeat. Last month, the university reported that private donations in the last half of 2004, $43.9 million, were up 71 percent from the $25.7 million given in the first half of the year.
Last week, however, The Des Moines Register updated an article that detailed how more than $205,000 in misspent funds, which were first identified by the College of Agriculture more than two years ago, were actually spent. Geoffroy said he doesn’t believe the report will hurt future private fundraising efforts.
“The Register wrote that same article two years ago, and really there’s nothing new in that article that wasn’t available two years ago,” he said. “When you look back, it was that somebody had put a note in the file about how those funds should be used, and the deans were relying on that information they thought was correct, and it was wrong.”
Following that discovery and the repayment of the funds, “I put in place a process in which we reviewed all the endowment accounts we had control over to make sure that we were using all the funds in strict accordance with the donors’ wishes,” he said. “So for two years we really went through an extensive education process on campus. … I’m very confident that we’re working now with very high integrity, and paying attention to the understandings with the donors as to how the funds would be used.”
Asked to rank his three toughest problems he faced during the past year, funding actually came up second behind his anticipated decision regarding the future of the suspended Veishea celebration, which was cancelled this year after last year’s rioting.
The third-toughest issue, Geoffroy said, has been the declining number of Iowa high school graduates due to demographic trends, which is expected to continue to shrink the pool from which the university gets its in-state students.
“This year, there are 1,300 fewer Iowa high school graduates than last year,” he said. “We typically capture 8 percent of that. And the projections are that there will be a continued decline in Iowa high school graduates. We’re working very hard on (increasing out-of-state enrollments) as well as increasing our Iowa market share. But there’s only so much we can do, given the competition. But we’re working hard on both of those components.”
Geoffroy’s vision for ISU five years from now includes stronger entrepreneurship programs, along with the creation of more “centers of excellence,” he said.
“In the research areas, you’re going to see a university that’s sharply focused in areas in which we are truly the best in the world, and we’re going to create more of those areas. They’re likely to be in our traditional areas of strength: science, technology, engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine. Those are all high-impact areas for Iowa.”