Letter: Iowa State and “The Debt Trap”


Graduate students spoke at a special Regents’ meeting about the effect of a proposed 4.25% increase in tuition to cover rising costs and overall stagnant funding from the state.  

Brennan Goodman

Reading Wall Street Journal author Josh Mitchell’s “The Debt Trap” while hearing of news that the Iowa Board of Regents will potentially remove SAT and ACT testing for university admission left me with deja vu.

“The Debt Trap” explores the insidious role higher education and our administrators’ decisions to support endlessly increasing tuition (because they can — literally, read the chapter, “State U Inc.”), leaving more of us in more debt. Graduates and especially dropouts cannot afford or even hope to pay off these loans as interest payments swell beyond even the principal. This latter category — college dropouts — is my concern. Lowering admissions standards by removing the SAT and ACT will funnel more low-performing/low-aptitude students to ISU’s doors, many of whom will take out college loans. SAT and ACT scores are useful in predicting first-year college success (and I’d bet I’m not too far off in saying most students that drop out, drop out their first year). Nothing in these loans will ever put Iowa State financially at risk, as these loans are all guaranteed by the U.S. government.

However, students taking out these loans to fund their education will never be able to escape them, not even through bankruptcy. ISU will get the loan funds regardless of whether students graduate and succeed. College dropouts will especially be haunted by their loans as they are unable to achieve higher-salaried careers that the degree was supposed to earn those returns.

ISU faces declining enrollment, dorm rooms sit empty and more of our peers question, rightly so, the benefits of rising tuition in the face of declining social mobility across this country. “The Debt Trap” highlights an analogous situation when many for-profit law schools lowered LSAT score requirements, which are a strong predictor of first semester performance, when faced with declining enrollment.

Have we turned to the same model as for-profit law schools by lowering our standards for admissions to squeeze more and more federal loans out unsuspecting 17- and 18-year-olds and their families through Parent Plus loans?

Scholarships are a weak retort when over at the College of Veterinary Medicine, our scholarship funding only accounts for roughly 3 percent of the cost of attendance. This is not about equity: We need vigorous admission standards so that we are treating recent admits fairly in the face of university financial unaccountability.

“The wide adoption of test-optional policies among colleges and universities nationally risks creating a competitive disadvantage [to Iowa State]…” says the Regents, but really, that’s the loan money talking. But it doesn’t matter; nothing ever changes.

Brennan Goodman is a third year student in Veterinary Medicine.