Travel expenses vary across UI

By B.A. Morelli, The Press-Citizen

University of Iowa officials are defending increased travel spending for international efforts at a time when many units across campus have chopped travel expenses.

Units such as International Programs, Office for Study Abroad, and the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, saw sizable travel expense increases in fiscal 2010. Those expenses included international and domestic travel.

Barry Butler, UI’s interim provost declined comment other than to say in an email, “International and domestic travel by university faculty and staff is recognized as an important part of being a world-class research university.”

The most consistent increases have come from the International Programs unit, which has increased its travel spending $191,968, or 68 percent, since 2007. The expenses have ramped up 21 percent, 13 percent and 23 percent in the last three consecutive fiscal years to $472,748 in fiscal 2010.

The study abroad office had one of the largest single-year travel spending increases across campus this past fiscal year, rising $135,235 or 60 percent, from $225,148 in fiscal 2009 to $360,383 in fiscal 2010. The Center for Asian and Pacific Studies increased its travel spending from $28,928 in fiscal 2009 to $49,851 in fiscal 2010.

Overall, money spent for international travel university-wide decreased from $3.7 million in fiscal 2009 to $3.6 million in fiscal 2010. Domestic out-of-state travel university-wide increased from $19.7 million in fiscal 2009 to $20.4 million in fiscal 2010. In-state travel declined from $5.1 million in fiscal 2009 to $4.8 million in fiscal 2010.

“All of this is investment in the education of students and enrichment of faculty research.
All of this goes to further our education mission.” – IP Dean Downing Thomas

A freeze on state spending on non-essential out-of-state travel under former Gov. Chet Culver, and a new policy implemented by current Gov. Terry Branstad do not cover Iowa state Board of Regents universities, said Robert Bailey, the communications director for the state Department of Administrative Services.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said an important figure in UI’s travel spending is how much is paid for by taxpayers, and he thinks the university is being a good steward of its resources.

“I think the university is paying attention to this issue, and allowing travel in areas with financial support and lines to do it,” Bolkcom said. “Clearly, the university is trying to recruit international and out-of-state students to help pay the bills, but having a diverse student body with international diversity is good for the university broadly.”

Downing Thomas, dean of International Programs, defended the increases, saying they support core aspects of the university mission. The expenses cover research and development efforts by UI faculty, hosting foreign experts and speakers and international student recruiting, which have paid off in record growth of the international student body year-over-year for the past few years, he said. Out-of-state tuition subsidizes the cost of education for Iowans, he said.

“All of this is investment in the education of students and enrichment of faculty research,” Thomas said. “All of this goes to further our education mission.”

Thomas said only about 18 percent of this past year’s expenses in International Programs came from the taxpayer-supported general education fund.

Federal grants and contracts, which are supported by the public through federal taxes, cover a portion of international travel, including all Center for Asian and Pacific Studies travel expenses, Thomas said. Most study abroad travel is supported by endowed scholarships and student fees, he said.

John Rogers, assistant director of the Office for Study Abroad, said costs are increasing because study abroad itself is increasing. Student participation in study abroad has increased annually since 2000, and more faculty are leading trips, he said. Nearly 20 percent of all undergraduates study abroad by the time they graduate, Rogers said.

 

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