DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds assured Iowa’s public universities Tuesday that the state still wants to partner with them in preparing Iowans for the workforce — a reassurance the institutions were looking for after lawmakers' last session cut their base appropriations more than $30 million.

But Reynolds didn’t specify what that partnership might look like in the upcoming 2019 budget year, including how much financial support the Board of Regents should expect. And she didn’t make any promises in response to the board’s appeal for $12 million more to be split among the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

“We are entering another tough budget year,” Reynolds said after each of the university presidents made a funding pitch during a hearing that will help the Republican governor craft her budget proposal to the Iowa Legislature. “But we are committed to working with you and continuing to provide the students you serve with a great education.”

During their presentations, the campus presidents reiterated that they would use their share of the increase to provide need-based financial aid to Iowa resident undergraduates. Of the $12 million, $5 million would go to each to the UI and ISU and $2 million to UNI.

Typically by this time, regents have aired proposed tuition rates for the next school year. But after two years of last-minute increases following difficult legislative sessions, board President Mike Richards decided to delay the tuition debate.

He said in an interview Tuesday the board plans to hold its first consideration of tuition rates for the 2018-19 school year in February — after the new legislative session is underway.

“This year because of all the budgeting issues.” he said, “we thought it would be wise to wait and see.”

UI and ISU leadership have proposed 7 percent hikes for resident undergrads every year for five years if lawmakers don’t increase appropriations. UNI proposed an annualized 5 percent hike under the same conditions.

Several regents — along with some students and members of the public — say those hikes are too steep, and regents have focused on getting support to avoid them.

In making their case, the presidents tied their campus priorities to state priorities — specifically a push to bolster the workforce by increasing the percentage of Iowans with postsecondary education from 58 to 70 percent by 2025.

“We believe the University of Iowa has an important role to play in delivering that goal, and our strategic plan directly aligns with making it happen,” said UI President Bruce Harreld.

To achieve those strategic goals, Harreld said, the UI must invest between $155 and $165 million over five years. The university would cover a third of that through savings, leaving the rest to tuition and state aid.

“Our strategic plan specifically calls for increasing our four-year graduation rate to 60 percent, which is a 9 percentage point increase above our current four-year level,” he said. “This increase would add over 300 more graduates each year into the Iowa workforce ...”

With relatively strong median family incomes, Harreld said, Iowa has the capacity to fund top-tier higher education.

“Are we a state that aspires to national averages and mediocrity? Or are we one that aspires to excellence?” he asked. “We have the resources. Do we have the will?”

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, who began in that role just last week, highlighted her institution’s research park, which boasts 82 companies and about 1,700 employees.

“We have built an entrepreneurial ecosystem and we are going to be about building that entrepreneurial culture into our undergrad curriculum as well,” Wintersteen said.

In UNI’s pitch, President Mark Nook acknowledged its recruiting needs to change. Promising UNI will keep cutting costs, Nook said it also must attract more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates.

“We will continue to admit and enroll as many of the students coming out of Iowa high schools as we always have,” he said. “But the non-resident students are a revenue stream that fully pay for their education, so they are important to us in helping balance that budget.”

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