Dems: Why is affordable college tuition so important?

August 22, 2015
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Keeping college affordable allows more Iowans to get the education and skills they need to find good jobs. It creates a positive cycle that helps our state attract the types of businesses and jobs to strengthen our middle class and grow our economy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said that college grads earn 66 percent more than those with a high school diploma. By 2020, about two thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education. Yet college is more expensive than ever, increasing at alarming rates in recent decades and burdening students with massive debt.

Affordable tuition for those willing to study hard and work hard is a smart approach to strengthening Iowa’s middle class, keeping our workforce competitive and building a high-skill, high-wage economy. Iowa students have proven they are willing to do their part. Studies show that they have a much better college graduation rate than the nation as a whole.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that Governor Branstad vetoed funding to make college and career training more affordable.

The role of community colleges is growing, as they work closely with local businesses to reduce Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers. They’re the first place many Iowans go for higher education, job training and better career opportunities. An increase of $2.5 million this year was meant to keep community college tuition affordable. The Governor’s veto is a loss for students at Iowa’s community colleges.

We also proposed to freeze tuition for a third consecutive year at Iowa’s public universities. But Governor Branstad’s veto of almost $8.8 million is expected to result in a mid-year tuition hike at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. That’s a bad move when you consider that about 63 percent of Iowa’s state university graduates in 2013 had student loan debt, averaging $28,293 per student, according to the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

Students fared better at Iowa’s private colleges and universities. A boost in the Iowa Tuition Grant will ensure students can afford the education that’s right for them. To qualify, a student must be an Iowa resident, attend an independent, non-profit college or university, and demonstrate financial need.  The Iowa Tuition Grant represents about 1 percent of all state funding for education, but it helped more than 14,000 Iowa students last year and generated almost $450 million in financial aid awards from the schools.

For more on grants, scholarships and other help to pay for college, go to www.iowacollegeaid.gov.

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