Panel of legislators answers questions about tuition, college funding

Brian Voss

Concerns about the growing cost of college and a potential in-state tuition freeze were discussed at an open forum hosted by ISU Ambassadors and the Government of the Student Body on Friday.

Herman Quirmbach, state senator; Beth Wessell-Kroeschell, state representative; and Robert Donley, executive director of the Board of Regents, were all in attendance.

Donley said the tuition at Iowa State is currently the lowest in the group of peer institutions. The group Donley was referring to includes nine other land-grant universities, including the University of Illinois-Urbana, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M.

Donley also said Illinois-Urbana has the highest tuition within the peer group, at $15,258.

“That’s $193 being away from double what students in this state pay for a public higher education,” Donley said. “So you can thank your legislatures right here for helping to keep those costs down, and for properly funding higher education in the state.”

Donley said that in 2011, 32 percent of graduating students from Iowa State had no debt at all. Iowa State’s average indebtedness was $28,900. The average of the three regent schools in Iowa was $25,950, while the national average for public institutions was $23,800.

“We all would like to be at that national average but there are a number of factors,” Donley said.

Wessell-Kroeschell expressed concerns in having education be affordable for all students and not just those going into the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

“Where are we going to get our teachers, and where are we going to get our social workers?” Wessell-Kroeschell said. “I have some real concerns about having the educated workforce that we need in other things beside the [science, technology, engineering and math fields],” 

Donley said he wonders if some of the $50 billion the federal government took in last year from student loan payments could be used to fund higher education.

“They would lead you to believe that they’ve been using that money to put back into Pell [Grant] and some other things, but that’s actually not the case,” Donley said.

He asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the $50 billion during the summer.

“I don’t know if it’s going back into the general fund … if it’s going back into programs,” Donley said.

Quirmbach discussed his push to gain a 4 percent increase in funding from the state Legislature for regent schools.

“This isn’t going to happen without strong bipartisan support,” Quirmbach said.

Quirmbach said that not just the three communities with regents schools are affected by state funding for higher education, but rather every community and legislative district throughout the state.

Quirmbach said that during the recession, regent universities were cut by 24 percent, which was the largest cut of any state in the Midwest.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re putting that money back fast enough,” Quirmbach said. “This is not new money, this is restoring the old funds that were there before the recession hit, and if you adjust for inflation, you’ll find out the state’s contribution, adjusted for inflation, is less than it was back at the end of the 1990s.”

A common theme during the forum consisted of concerns about having an average student loan debt higher than the national average, while still having a relatively low tuition comparatively.

“We don’t have any real information about what students are spending their money on,” Wessell-Kroeschell said.

Wessell-Kroeschell also said public universities should have some form of need-based funding. Currently private schools in Iowa receiver $48 million in need-based funding.

“That need base is actually going to some people who make pretty significant incomes … which is a big concern of mine, that we have students here who probably have much greater need than some of those students who are going to those private institutions and getting that need-base,” Wessell-Kroeschell said.

Quirmbach also said work-study programs should be funded better.

“The research shows that students who have a modest amount of part-time employment, you know 10 to 15 hours a week maybe, actually do better in school,” Quirmbach said.