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Portion of tuition covered by loans growing

BY BRITTANY TREVICK | SEPTEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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More college students are using grants and scholarships to pay their tuition, according to a national study.

And at the University of Iowa, a certain amount of tuition dollars are set aside for scholarship programs. That fund has increased $33 million in the 2009-10 school year to $46 million in the 2011-12 school year to help undergraduate students afford college.

But Iowa’s students are still graduating with a high amount of debt.

According to a Sallie Mae study, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of grants and scholarships being used by students to pay their tuition for the 2010-11 school year.

Mark Warner, the assistant provost for enrollment management and director of UI Student Financial Aid, said the amount allocated for grants and scholarships increases each year as tuition increases.

“Clearly, what we are allocating to support university scholarships and grants to undergraduate students, the outpace increases as tuition increases,” he said. “More often than not, it’s by a larger percentage.”

But even with these increases, students nationwide are graduating with an average debt of $24,000 — an increase of 6 percent over the last year — according to a 2009 report by the Project of Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success. The project aims to educate the public about the trend of borrowing to pay for higher education.

According to the study, 74 percent of students in Iowa universities are graduating with debt — the second highest portion in the country. The average debt these students are graduating with is $28,883, the fourth highest nationwide. University of Iowa students fell a little under the state average, with 61 percent of students graduating in 2009 with an average debt of $22,684.

Warner said it is difficult to explain why Iowa received such a high ranking.

“There is not a simple answer,” he said.

According to the report, Iowa State University had 71 percent of their students graduate with an average debt of $30,411.

Roberta Johnson, the ISU director of financial aid, said one of the theories for why so many Iowa students graduate with such debt is because of the state grant program. In some other states, the program is available to students attending either private or public schools. But in Iowa, only students attending private institutions receive grants from the program.

But these private-school students still have to pay a higher tuition.

“Despite the fact that [these students] get this appropriation from the state Legislature, their costs as a private institution are still higher,” she said. “Students have to make up the difference.”

ISU also saw an increase in the number of its grants and scholarships, with awards going from 31,474 in 2008-09 to 33,227 in 2009-10. Johnson credited the economy.

“The economy being the way it is, many schools are realizing they need to step up or students would not be able to afford even being here,” she said.

Matthew Reed, the program director for the Institute for College Access and Success, said Iowa has generally been ranked in the top 10 since the project began. He pointed to the cost of attendance, available grant money and the number of out-of-state students as some possible reasons for Iowa’s high ranking.

In order to fix this, he said, Iowa universities should focus on educating their students about the loan process and also directing money to those who need it the most.

“Colleges and the state [should] focus aid on need-based aid and work to ensure the federal Pell Grant program is fully funded,” he said. “Those are all important factors in eliminating the need for borrowing.”


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