The board chose Shippensburg University President William N. Ruud after interviewing the final two candidates and an almost 3-hour discussion during a closed meeting in West Des Moines.
"It is absolutely my pleasure to accept the opportunity to be the 10th president of the University of Northern Iowa," Ruud said.
Ruud will begin work on a 3-year contract starting June 1, replacing Benjamin Allen. He will be paid $340,000 a year.
A 21-member committee began a search for a new president August.
Rudd will begin at UNI at a time when the 12,000-student school is moving on from difficult budget cuts enacted last year that eliminated 58 majors, minors and graduate programs and the Malcolm Price Laboratory school, a popular teaching program.
Shippensburg is a 7,700-student university that is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Ruud said he wants to focus on fundraising and "friend-raising" to find those already in the Cedar Falls and Waterloo community who are interested in financially supporting the university.
The UNI student body is 93 percent Iowa residents, and though Ruud calls that a strength, he plans to focus on enrollment management by reaching out to international and out-of-state students and increasing financial aid.
The new president embarks on a rocky relationship with the faculty union, United Faculty. After the shuttering of the Price Lab, the union issued a vote of no confidence in Allen's leadership as well as the university provost and state Board of Regents.
United Faculty president Dan Power said he is cautiously optimistic of the regent's decision.
"The faculty has been hurt and he's going to need to fix some fences," Power said.
He says the highest priority of the new president should be restoring tenured faculty who were forced into early retirement or separation from the university last year.
"I want to listen," Ruud said. "I have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. I'm going to use them proportionally."
But Bruce Rastetter, regent president pro tempore, said it was Ruud's experience leading a comprehensive university similar to UNI and ability to work with Shippensburg's six university unions made him a more attractive candidate.
Jordan Bancroft-Smithe, UNI student body president, says Ruud demonstrated he was more approachable and enthusiastic during an organized meet and greet with students than his challenger.
"With students, he comes right up and addresses them by name. He makes students feel important," he said.