Friday, October 3, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids, IA


Thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today. It’s always a great pleasure to visit with our good friends in Cedar Rapids. I’ve been asked to talk with you today about some of today’s challenges in higher education, especially as they apply to the education we provide our students and the access they have to that education.

First, let me say that our highest priority at the University of Iowa is to provide a high-quality education to all qualified students who seek it. We work very hard not only to make our teaching and learning the best it can be, but also to provide the widest possible access to that education.

Let me first briefly touch on the academic excellence we provide at the University of Iowa, of which I am extraordinarily proud. Our faculty, staff, and students continue to build a remarkable record of accomplishment. It’s not surprising, then, that we rank among the nation’s top 30 public institutions of higher education at number 27 according to the US News & World Report.

Our students achieve excellence because they study under faculty in some of the very best academic programs anywhere. We are very proud that 27 of our graduate programs and hospital clinical specialties rank in the top 25 according to US News & World Report, including 10 in the top 10 in the country.

Examples of other achievements in academic excellence across campus include our world-renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which regularly emerges as the number one program in the country. And the Tippie College of Business’s finance program is listed among the top ten in the world by The Financial Times. We have been developing our entrepreneurship programs very aggressively in recent years, and we are proud that Entrepreneur magazine designated Iowa among the top 25 entrepreneurship programs in the country.

What I’m especially proud of at Iowa is that we provide an excellent education at an affordable price. For the tenth straight year, the University of Iowa has been designated a “Best Buy” in the Fiske Guide to Colleges, one of only 23 public universities from the US, UK, and Canada on the list. The “Best Buy” designation is determined by a combination of high academic rankings, an inexpensive or moderate price, and a high quality of student life on campus.

Another point of special pride for me is our success in serving a very special cohort of students: our military veterans. Through innovative programming and support from our state legislature, we have been able to grow our veteran student population, and I see that growth only becoming stronger. Our dedication and hard work has paid off, and we are honored and delighted that the University of Iowa has been ranked among the top ten in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s guide to the “Best Colleges for Veterans.”

Having said all that, we all know that the cost of higher education continues to increase nationally. We must be vigilant and creative about ways that we can help any student get to the UI, pay for his or her education, engage in a successful academic experience, graduate in a timely manner, and move on to a successful professional and community life. Funding and cost challenges have hit public institutions such as the University of Iowa especially hard. In inflation-adjusted dollars, tuition at Iowa’s public universities has risen over 75 percent since 1990.

The single biggest factor in the rising cost of tuition at public universities is declining state appropriations.  Nationally, state funding for higher education has consistently fallen over the past fifteen to twenty years. According to the Delta Cost Project’s “Trends in College Spending” report that came out this past summer, for the first time, students “now pay half or more on average of the full institutional cost to provide their education.” In just the past decade at public four-year institutions, that has represented an 18- to 22-percentage point increase in the student’s contribution to his or her education.

That trend has certainly played out in Iowa.  At one time, approximately 70 percent of the UI’s General Education Fund came from state appropriations. That number stands at 33 percent for the current fiscal year. Student tuition and fees account for 60.8 percent of the GEF. In terms of the entire university enterprise, state appropriations now account for only 7.6 percent of the institutional budget. In the year 2000, that percentage was nearly twice as large at 14.9 percent.

The most immediate strategy for containing tuition costs at Iowa’s public universities is to focus on the tuition itself, and that is what we have done. I am very pleased that the state legislature and Governor Branstad approved a tuition freeze for undergraduate resident students at the state universities for the second year in a row for the current academic year. This is the first two-year tuition freeze since 1975. The freeze was also implemented in conjunction with a 4 percent boost in general university funding. I advocated very strongly for this freeze and continue to do so. I also have been very pleased and impressed by the way our students have stepped up to the plate and have participated in working with our state’s leaders to make the freeze possible.

We are also working very hard to increase the funds available to students through scholarship programs. The UI Foundation is currently in the midst of the university’s and the state’s largest comprehensive campaign in history. Among the three major priorities of the “For Iowa. Forever More” $1.7 million campaign is “educating our students, the leaders of tomorrow, to thrive in a complex global society.” The number one priority within that goal is endowed scholarships—both merit- and need-based. But we also seek more funding for other student opportunities such as study abroad, leadership training, service-learning opportunities, student entrepreneurship initiatives, and hands-on research experiences.

We were delighted to announce a wonderful example of the latter just this week from a generous couple right here in Cedar Rapids. Robert and Sue Latham have made a remarkable gift of $1 million to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for a new program in the biology department that will empower selected undergraduate students to conduct innovative scientific research on global issues with social impact with a group of faculty mentors and peers.

Another important way for us to assist students and their families in containing the costs of college is to help them graduate in a timely manner. While we of course want students to benefit from a full college experience, we also all know that each additional semester costs a lot of money. One of our newest efforts to help students move promptly through their academic programs and to support them financially is the Hawk Tuition Grant. This past summer, about 250 students took advantage of this innovative program, which offers first-year students a resident tuition scholarship for up to twelve credit hours for summer classes at no additional expense to the student.

The Hawk Tuition Grant not only generously supports our students, but it also supports our efforts to increase our four-year graduation rate, which jumped from 48 percent to 51 percent last year. We are also maintaining an approximately 70% six-year graduation rate, which is well above the 54% national average.

We’re also very proud of our increasing retention rates. The national average for retaining students between the first and second years of college is 76.7%, and we at Iowa have raised that to over 85% for several years in a row. We will continue working to push these rates higher. One way we are doing so is that we are now automatically enrolling every student in our four-year graduation plan. This is a contract between the university and our students that if they stay on course to graduate in four years by enrolling in the appropriate number of classes and remaining in good academic standing, we will guarantee they will get the classes they need. In addition, we are in the early stages of developing a three-year graduation guarantee for students and programs where such a program would work.

Let me briefly return to the idea of student retention. Student retention not only helps our students make progress toward graduation, but it also helps our bottom line with a more stable tuition base, which in turn helps us keep tuition itself down for all students. Our student success initiatives have been our central strategy to both improve our students’ collegiate experience and to improve retention. Over the past few years, the new student success programs we have implemented include our first-year seminar program, which gives incoming students a small-class experience with our most experienced instructors; expanded tutoring services; expanded leadership programs; our “Pick One” initiative that asks students to choose at least one extra- or co-curricular activity to participate in; the Iowa Challenge, which asks students to rise to the challenge of five important expectations: excel, stretch, engage, choose, and serve; and a very successful new welcome and orientation program before the fall semester begins called “On Iowa!”, which is growing in participation each year.

Our living-learning communities have been one of our most important and most successful student success programs. All floors in all of the UI’s residence halls are now living-learning communities. Living-learning communities extend learning through shared coursework, special programming, optional dinners with faculty, and trips to events on and off campus. Our communities at the UI focus on such areas as the arts, business, education, health sciences, writing, engineering, sustainability, and the global village. Our newest dorm, the Mary Louise Petersen Residence Hall, which will open next year, is being constructed around the living-learning community concept. The first new residence hall on our campus since 1968 will go a long way toward both ensuring student success as well as allowing our student body to grow.

We are also committed to providing the best in learning technology for our students, which is crucial to their academic success in today’s world. These include our growing number of TILE classrooms. TILE stands for Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage. The goals of these learning spaces are to transform teaching practices through lively interaction, enhanced learning, and increased faculty/student engagement. Our TILE classrooms are equipped with circular tables, laptops, flat screen monitors, multiple projectors, and whiteboards to encourage and support collaborative and engaged active learning.

Our commitment to student success and technology has also literally taken shape with the new Learning Commons in the Main Library that we opened last year and that has become one of the most popular locations on campus for students to gather. We have made innovative changes that reflect the way students study and learn today. The Learning Commons features 24-hour, comfortable study space; a one-stop academic help center; new, well-equipped private and group study areas for more than 500 students; 150 desktop computers; a new innovative, interactive, and technologically sophisticated classroom; and a renovated café.

Much of what I have been talking about here applies to those students who come to Iowa City and participate in on-campus programs. But in today’s economic and educational environment, not all students are able to spend four or more years in residence on our campus. So we are doing all we can to increase access to our programs for Iowa students directly in their home communities.

Over the past several years, I have been proud to sign agreements with all of Iowa’s community colleges, including Kirkwood Community College here in Cedar Rapids, to expand the promise of education statewide. In addition to making it easier for students to transfer from local community colleges to the university, these agreements have created collaborative on-site and distance-learning degree and certificate programs that allow students to get a UI education right at home. These programs include associate’s-to-bachelor’s degree completion programs, RN-to-BSN completion programs for nurses, bachelor of applied and liberal studies degrees, and certificates in entrepreneurial management, nonprofit management, and public health.

We have also been making a UI education more accessible and more affordable through combined undergraduate and graduate/professional degree programs both on campus and in partnership with other Iowa colleges. For example, the UI College of Law is embarking on new partnerships with several outstanding Iowa undergraduate institutions, including Coe College right here in Cedar Rapids, as well as the UI’s own College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This 3+3 program allows students to earn their bachelor’s and law degrees in six years, saving students thousands of dollars in tuition and other costs and giving them a one-year head start on their law careers.

We’re also excited about our new accelerated degree program in the UI College of Public Health. Through the college’s Undergrad-to-Grad Combined Degree Program, students in select majors may complete an undergraduate and a graduate public health degree in just five years. Just this past month, we were excited to announce a similar program in partnership with Grinnell College that enables Grinnell students from any major to earn both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master’s of Public Health degree in five years.

Of course, while we want our students to successfully graduate in a timely manner, we also want them to succeed after commencement. We are proud that, thanks to our academic excellence and our strong student support programs, 90 percent of our graduating class in 2013 was either employed or in graduate school within seven months after graduation.

We see the excellence of our graduates not just in these numbers, but also in the real-world work that Hawkeye alumni perform once they enter the workforce in their communities. For example, across our state, 50% of Iowa physicians are UI-educated, 80% of all Iowa dentists have been trained at Iowa, 47% of all pharmacists in the state are UI-trained, and 80% of Iowa’s K-12 school districts have UI-educated teachers and administrators.

With over 4,100 businesses hiring our graduates in recent years, it is not hard to run into a fellow Hawkeye no matter where you work. As I travel across the state and nation and talk with community leaders and business owners, I consistently hear that Iowa graduates are not just highly trained professionals but hard workers and caring community members. Our students are seen as the next generation of leaders, and I know that our hometown Hawkeyes will continue to bring innovation and excellence to communities across the state, nation, and world in the years to come.

Before we open the floor up to questions, there is one other important issue that some of you have asked me to speak briefly about, something very serious that is important to all our students and to the entire campus community. It affects our nation as well. You no doubt have seen much discussion of this issue all the way up to the president of the United States. That issue is sexual assault.

At the University of Iowa, we take sexual assaults very seriously. There is no excuse for this crime. It has no place on our campus or anywhere. We must not rest until sexual assault is eliminated entirely. Unfortunately, there have been assaults on our campus this semester.  I am grateful for the courage of the survivors who reported them, which allows us to offer support, to investigate, and ultimately to hold perpetrators accountable.

Last February, I announced our Six-Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault.  It commits the university to doing everything in its power to prevent sexual violence, to support survivors, and to hold offenders responsible. Let me briefly share with you those six points and our progress so far.

Point 1: Crack down on offenders. An important element of this goal has been to develop more and more effective sanctions. Recently, I announced that we had established our first-ever set of sanctioning guidelines for violations of our Sexual Misconduct Policy. These guidelines help us send a clear message that violators will be held accountable for their behavior. All offenders found responsible for policy violations are to be sanctioned. The offenders in the most severe cases are to be expelled. And indeed, we have expelled two students for sexual assault since April. In addition, a Regents university system-wide policy and procedure review is underway. 

Point 2 of the Six-Point Plan is to increase support for survivors. We are working on expanding long-term support services and training for every staff member who comes in contact with survivors. We also are advocating with our congressional leaders for continued federal funding for sexual assault nurse examiners, and we have provided institutional funding for a portion of our campus nurse examiner program.

Point 3 focuses on improving prevention and education. First, we hope to add staff for in-person training, workshops, and dialogues. We also wish to implement regular campus safety walks to improve lighting and other conditions. The first safety walk is in the planning stages for this semester. We also have authorized funding to expand Nite Ride.  Nite Ride offers women safe transportation, with full-time UI Security Officers operating the program’s mini-buses. We have purchased a second mini-bus, which is now in use, and hours have been expanded from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week, during the academic year.

Point 4 is to improve communication. To make resource and support information easier to find, we have improved our website search for sexual assault information, and we have added a more prominent link to the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator on the UI homepage. We have also added additional information to the UI police website and more prominent action links and contact information to the OSMRC site. As well, we have improved the language of our Timely Warning e-mails.  The revised language includes a trigger warning to alert survivors as well as stronger language about potential consequences for those who commit sexual offenses

Point 5 is to add funding. As I noted earlier, we have already added resources to our Nite Ride and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program.

And our final point of the Six-Point Plan is to listen more and report back. We have formed a President’s Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which has been meeting with me and senior staff since last April. We also have a special page on the President’s website for the Six-Point Plan, which includes regular updates on our progress.

I am very pleased with the progress we have made on our Six-Point Plan, but of course, much work remains to be done. The safety and well-being of every member of the University of Iowa community is of utmost importance. I have urged all members of our campus to play a role in confronting sexual assault, to keep supporting the survivors, and to keep taking action that will make meaningful and lasting change. I believe that by working together and working diligently, we can bring an end to this crime.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today about the challenges we face in providing the best education possible for our students. I have been happy to share with you how we are working hard to meet the needs of our enrolled University of Iowa Hawkeyes, prospective students, and all the citizens of Iowa.