Letter: Iowa State’s massive COVID-19 problem


Garrett Heyd

Letter writer Benjamin Thomas discusses the spending of Iowa State in comparison to the quality of education geared toward students.

Benjamin Thomas

No one could have expected something like COVID-19 to impact our day-to-day lives like it has throughout this year. However, one of the groups of people it has impacted the most is college students. With tens of thousands of dollars of crippling student loan debt, a horrible job market and tremendous pressure from society to succeed, many college students/recent graduates are currently experiencing the most stressful time in their life… and Iowa State is partially to blame. 

Since the government started to guarantee student loans in 1965, the cost of college has more than tripled (AFTER accounting for inflation) from when our parents’ generation went to college. The quality of our education has certainly not tripled in that time frame so the big question is: How did college get so expensive?

The simple answer is that Iowa State, just like every other major college, took advantage of the fact their students had incredibly easy access to debt and would essentially pay anything for college since they were taking out loans to do so anyway.

They were not concerned with the long-term ramifications on their students’ lives, but rather about “keeping up with the Joneses” by spending ridiculous sums of money on unnecessary new buildings, redundant programs across campus and administrative bloat. 

College graduates with large sums of student loan debt have been putting off major life events like getting married, buying a home, saving for retirement and etc. all because they have crippling student loan debt hanging over their head.

This problem is exacerbated when you have student’s taking out massive debt for degrees like gender studies or any of these other ridiculous degrees that provide no return on investment in the real world. On the other side of things, you have majors like engineering and finance that provide graduates with great salaries throughout their careers, but even those degrees are having diminishing returns as tuition continues to skyrocket. 

These major universities like Iowa State have also had massive administrative bloat over the past three decades or so. According to the Delta Cost Project, most major universities spent more money on administrative salaries than they did on the students’ actual instruction. They also noted the number of faculty and staff per administrator has dropped dramatically between 1990 to 2012 by almost 40 percent. That essentially means colleges are more focused on paying the massive salaries of administrators than they are on the actual quality of your education.

I know a number of phenomenal professors at Iowa State who ended up leaving for a higher paying job elsewhere — had the school prioritized the faculty over the redundant administration across campus, these professors might have stayed and continued to provide value for their students at Iowa State. 

Another massive change we’ve begun to see is the spending for the athletics programs. The Iowa State Athletics Department just announced they will lose an estimated $40 million if there are no sports played this fall. While I, along with every other sports fan, am disappointed this may happen, the university should have limited the athletic program spending over the years so something like this could never happen.

Every major college across the country has had ridiculously large athletic program budgets in order to “keep up with the Joneses” and now that is coming around to bite them because of their lack of risk management. Now I understand this is something no one could have been prepared for or predicted, but this situation exaggerates how out of control these colleges have been with their spending in recent years. 

Overall, I hope this pandemic forces these universities, especially Iowa State, to take a step back and realize how out of control their financial situation has been over the years. Students aren’t going to pay full tuition for a half-hearted online experience.

My prediction is that freshman enrollment is going to plummet at every major university as students realize they can pay a fraction of the price for the same online classes at a local community college. Because of this, my hope is the university system will be forced to reevaluate what is actually necessary across their campuses and begin to prioritize their students’ financial well-being for once.

Benjamin Thomas is a graduate student in finance.