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Branstad, Hatch differ over higher education vision

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | SEPTEMBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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The state’s two major-party gubernatorial candidates staked widely different posts into the state’s educational ground on Tuesday, signaled with public and private appearances on how best to increase higher-education affordability and offer flexibility paying off in student-loan debt.

During a small gathering in Iowa State University’s Memorial Union and a stop at Drake University in Des Moines, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced new proposals to curb rising college-education costs and offering up new avenues to pay off loan debt through a “fixed price” initiative. They will stop at the University of Iowa on Thursday to discuss the same platform.

While approval will still need to be sought by the governing body of the state’s flagship public universities, the state Board of Regents, the proposal spearheaded by the five-term governor appears to side heavily with public institutions.

Two major cornerstones include a flat $10,000 price tag for a handful of popular majors and at least 50 percent off the cost of tuition in at least half of the majors offered at UI, ISU, and the University of Northern Iowa for in-state students, according to a campaign official.

For the current school year, in-state tuition and fees at Iowa State is $7,700. The rates at the UI and UNI are comparable.

Further details, including projected cost for the new education outlines, will be part of a revenue review set to be decided at the end of the year.

Just hours after Branstad’s announcement, Democratic challenger and state Sen. Jack Hatch slammed the five-term governor’s higher education roadmap, dubbing it a delayed and weak campaign promise that single-handedly neglects the state’s community colleges and private schools.

In a roundtable setting with The Daily Iowan, Hatch called Branstad’s education improvement answer “unrealistic and unworkable.”

“Today’s proposal is too little, too late,” Hatch, 64, said, maintaining that Branstad’s educational endeavor relies too heavily on adjunct faculty and “will turn Iowa schools into the public university equivalent of the University of Phoenix.”

In January, Hatch released his higher-education guideline that includes a state-sponsored low-interest student-loan process and giving students the option to take any class at any Iowa college or university for equivalent credit under an “Open Doors Accelerated B.A. program.”

In his first year as governor, Hatch said, he would like to usher in a third tuition freeze at the regents’ institutions, as well as depoliticizing the regents by appointing a chancellor to assist in university presidential appointments and daily activities.

Hatch’s campaign operatives have submitted the contrasting education plan to UI President Sally Mason, ISU President Steven Leath, and UNI President William Ruud, but have not pursued any discussions with them, Hatch said.

The real discussions would begin after the election, he said about communication with university administrators.

Regent President Bruce Rastetter, a loyal Branstad backer who has donated to his re-election campaign, failed to return requests for comment by the DI Tuesday evening.

Albeit a more challenging task to accomplish, students would also be able to dip into a pool of $150 million for low-interest student loans, if elected, Hatch said.

Both the Hatch and Branstad plans may mull the opportunity to create dual-credit options for students in high school to earn college credit and incorporate a large online course platform. Texas and Florida have implemented similar programs.

Pointing to public concern over the direction of Iowa’s national education reputation, UNI political-science Associate Professor Christopher Larimer said Branstad could see a boost in favorability.

Although the announcement wasn’t necessary to hold his lead in several polls, he said, Branstad has to continue to show that he is leading the state.

“I don’t know if he’d be in danger of losing the election if he didn’t [introduce] it, but the public still wants him to be out there and active,” Larimer said, adding that education improvements are often eyed as a bipartisan topic.


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