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Overton: A little tuition perspective

BY JON OVERTON | JANUARY 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Great news: Gov. Terry Branstad recommended that public universities in Iowa get more funding to extend the ongoing tuition freeze. And the state Board of Regents called it “a tremendous win for Iowa’s students and families” in a response to the governor’s budget proposal.

Before we throw a celebratory campus-wide keg party, we need a little perspective on the cost of tuition.

The Project on Student Debt reported that the average UI graduate in 2011 owed more than $27,000 in student loans. The Iowa Fiscal Partnership found in a policy brief that between 2000 and 2011, tuition rose by 75 percent for average Iowa students at public four-year universities. Data from Iowa Workforce Development and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that Iowa’s median household income remained flat over the same period after inflation.

So why is tuition so expensive? The answer is complicated and fuzzy, but as the Iowa Fiscal Partnership noted in the same brief, it probably relates to the state government’s appropriations to Iowa’s three state universities dropping by 40 percent from 2000 to 2011, forcing schools to increasingly shift the cost of education on to students.

The cost of public higher education has become so prohibitively expensive that students, many of them in their early 20s, are being saddled with crippling debt that takes years to pay off. Iowa has a budget surplus of $800 million, but naturally, our elected officials are bickering about spending it on tax cuts.

The status quo is clearly unjust, and a tuition freeze will only keep it alive. Our state government is in a position to help, and its failure to actively decrease tuition for public university students is entirely disgraceful. The state government must work to substantially decrease public university students’ education costs.

Only then can we throw one hell of a party as only we at the UI can pull off.


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