Leath testifies before Senate committee to keep college affordable

Aimee Burch

ISU president Steven Leath testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the issue of making college accessible and affordable to all who wish to pursue higher education.

Speaking to the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Leath said, “Being accessible means being affordable, without being burdened by an unmanageable debt load, which unfortunately is the case for many today.”

Leath praised Iowa State’s approach to members of the Senate by outlining the approach the university takes to reduce student debt and make college affordable. These include holding down costs, providing financial literacy and counseling to students and families, finding alternative and/or lower-costs methods of obtaining a degree and maximizing revenue sources other than tuition.

According to a news release from Iowa State, Leath said the university is one of only five major universities in the country to provide financial counseling clinics to teach students responsible budgeting, debt and credit practices. Iowa State also prominently mentions student levels of debt and methods of loan repayment in letters they send out.

Leath also spoke on the role community colleges can play in being an alternative, lower-cost path to a bachelor’s degree. According to the same news release, nearly one-fifth of new ISU transfer students do so via community colleges. Many freshmen also enter the university with community college credits earned while in high school.

Leath stressed the important role the federal government can play in keeping these costs affordable and attainable. He urged senators to keep Pell grants at levels consistent with inflation and keep interest rates at a low level.

“We didn’t get into this student debt dilemma overnight. It’s taken decades of cost increases, state tax support decreases and poor financial decision-making to reach this critical debt level. And we won’t get out of it overnight. But with all stakeholders working together — states, the federal government, colleges and students — I know we can make real progress toward making college more affordable and, therefore, more accessible,” Leath said in closing his remarks.