Higher Education Priorities

Just squeaked through crunch time of awarding $1 million private scholarship dollars to students entering our university this fall. The award is equal to one-half tuition and fees for four years. Most of the students receiving this award have significant to full financial need in meeting the cost of attendance for resident students, so getting this envelope in the mail is a reason for celebration.

So why am I not celebrating?

Analysis of financial aid packages for these students show that those with stellar grades who are scrambling for outside scholarships may meet about half of their expenses through grant and gift aid, leaving $8,000 to $10,000 in loan or out-of-pocket expense. Considering that the Iowa median income is $47,000 and most recipients of this award fall below the median, how is a student to afford an education at a Midwest public research university?

Our students graduate with some of the highest student loan debt in the nation and have amassed a 58% increase in loan debt in the last decade. Our state legislature disburses 85% of the state’s $3.4 million of need-based grants to students enrolled in private, not-for-profit colleges reserving only 6% for students enrolled in public colleges and universities.

Slow economic recovery and higher student loan default rates will not improve anytime soon. Tuition freeze? Loan forgiveness? I don’t have all of the answers. But it is time to prioritize the opportunity of higher education for all students.

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