UNI is the most important institution in Cedar Falls. UNI plays a vital role in Iowa's workforce development, perhaps most importantly, preparing educators for careers of service to Iowa's youth. In recent years, UNI has seemingly been relegated to the second tier by the Regents, Governor, and legislature. We could try to diagnose the cause, but we would be better served to develop an immediate remedy based on the current state. To elevate UNI, we must foster its signature programs to levels of recognition comparable to programs at Iowa or Iowa State. Education is UNI's calling card. There are other great programs, but education is the most powerful lever for reform and recognition at UNI. Further, if we aim to improve Iowa K-12 education, UNI is a critical piece of the puzzle in restoring Iowa's reputation for educational excellence.
Wearing a purple UNI polo and making funding appeals will not drive UNI's resurgence. We need leaders at UNI and the legislature to make the case for UNI's signature programs based on Iowa goals, namely to put Iowa back on the education podium. Just as Iowa is to healthcare, or Iowa State is to agriculture, UNI should be to education. Restoring our position on the education podium will require unprecedented leadership and commitment to programming and systematic change.
I begin the conversation here and will carry this conversation and future forms with UNI and the Regents. I propose a visionary realignment and extension program:
Step 1: Align Iowa Education Resources through UNI. UNI should be the epicenter for Iowa education. Education programs at Iowa and Iowa State should be aligned through UNI leadership. University of Iowa would continue to do R1 research, what it does best. Iowa State can continue to do innovative teacher training. But rather than competing, these great resources would be aligned through UNI's objective to restore Iowa's K-12 education reputation in the state. From this resource alignment, UNI would guide education research (technology, instruction and curriculum), teacher training and deployment in the most timely, efficient, and effective manner possible. In time, this approach will not only produce K-12 achievement, it will drive commercialization of curriculum, technology, training and deployment approaches... all exportable products and services to other states.
Step 2: Develop UNI Education Extension. Just as Iowa State has Agricultural Extension touching every county, UNI should have Education Extension touching every school district. I would direct legislation to reorganize the 9 AEA districts through UNI. AEA has ready infrastructure and support system, but it is capable of so much more. It would be the artery (delivery) and vein (feedback) to school districts to implement the very best practices, curriculum, technology, models, and teachers throughout our state (staying true to local control, implementation would be voluntary, decided at the school board levels). Additionally, we should explore organizing Iowa's 15 Community Colleges through UNI. These bold actions would raise UNI's prominence and profile among every Iowan, and beyond (AEA's budget is around $200MM!). This system would promote efficiencies and efficacy undreamed by the Regents. It would solidify UNI's reputation and importance in the eyes of Iowans, Regents, Legislature and the nation.
These two steps will elevate UNI's position among the Regents, Iowans and the nation. It serves critical goals: to make Iowa number one in education, equalize opportunities among all Iowans, and to create a workforce to support robust economic development.