Editorial: Summer scholarship program will improve grad rates


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As the Iowa Legislature considers implementing a tuition freeze for Iowa’s state universities, the University of Iowa is taking proactive steps to reduce costs to students while simultaneously attempting to increase four-year graduation rates at what, in theory, should be a low cost to the university.

UI Associate Provost Beth Ingram said the university will provide scholarships for one summer term to new students enrolling at the UI in the summer or fall of 2013. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the UI summer scholarship program is an extremely promising initiative with the potential to reduce student debt, improve the four-year graduation rate, and increase the quality of students’ education.

The program, called the Summer Hawk Tuition Grant, will provide free tuition for in-state students and in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students. At present, full-time in-state students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences pay $3,339 in tuition for the summer term, and out-of-state students pay $12,774, according to a report from the UI Office of the Registrar.

This will theoretically help student debt; as the Project on Student Debt reported that in 2011, 56 percent of UI students graduated with student loans and, on average, owed $27,480.

In addition to decreasing student debt, the summer scholarship program intends to raise the four-year graduation rate from 48 percent to 52 percent by 2016, the DI has previously reported.

Ingram said there is no limit on the number of students receiving the scholarship and no restrictions based on need or merit. Students may take up to 12 semester hours during the summer term.

Part-time students during the regular academic year, she said, are ineligible for the summer scholarship program. In order to receive the scholarship, students must have completed 24 semester hours of coursework at the UI.

At first, this may sound like an extremely costly program — but not as much as one might think.
“Most of the classes are not fully enrolled, so the cost of adding another student or two to a class is almost zero,” Ingram said in a previous interview with the DI.

Regent Robert Downer told the DI that even though some costs will probably rise, they will likely be modest at best and the benefits will far outweigh the price tag.

Although most UI majors are set up to allow graduation in four years, according to the liberal-arts school website, 75 percent of college students in general change their major. This usually means spending more time in college, thus paying more in tuition and living expenses.

The summer scholarship program would provide breathing room to students who change majors, work, have internships or want to study abroad. Many of these opportunities are invaluable to a college education, and giving students more flexibility will enrich their experience at the UI while cutting the financial burden incurred from student loans.

While the DI Editorial Board sympathizes with out-of-state students who do have to pay far more than in-state students and current students who won’t receive this scholarship, we feel the program is sufficiently generous in cutting one summer term’s tuition rates for out-of-state students by about 75 percent and giving in-state students a free term.

Only including new students is the smartest way to start the initiative. It allows the UI to test the program’s viability with a smaller group of students to avoid any disastrous consequences. If the program doesn’t work properly, or needs adjustment, damage will be much smaller than if all students were immediately made eligible for the summer scholarship.

Through the outlined approach, the UI is carefully maximizing gains while minimizing potential risk for a promising program that may drastically improve educational opportunities for students while reducing their debt.

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