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Editorial: Hatch has the right idea on higher education

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa’s Democratic candidate for governor, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, met with the Daily Iowan Editorial Board on Tuesday to discuss education reform. The difference the candidates’ stances could determine who receives the majority of the student vote in the upcoming election.

Hatch released his plan for higher education reform last fall. “Open Doors for Iowa Students” is a plan that focuses on providing accelerated learning, a streamlined system for transferring credits among institutions, and a locked tuition rate for four years. By focusing on accelerated learning, Hatch aims to reduce the amount of time students need to be enrolled in college while still maintaining appropriate standards of education. By ensuring these standards are agreed upon by all higher-learning institutions, Hatch wants to give students the ability to transfer credits between institutions.

One proposal Hatch strongly focused on is the premise of locked tuition. This is the idea that students will pay one tuition rate for their four-year college career, protecting them from rising college costs.

Hatch also spoke about his plans for rewarding graduates who volunteer by reducing their student loan debt.

He emphasized that he wants to reward exceptional students rather than incentivize volunteering. He believes there is no sense in giving students incentive for doing something that is already grounded in our roles as citizens, though this proposal seems somewhat at odds with that view. We hope to see more details of this incentive program.

Hatch also wants to cut student costs by 25 percent across the board. This is a very lofty goal, and the DI Editorial Board questions whether this is feasible. Although accelerated learning within and among institutions, along with the novel idea of maintaining a single tuition for four years, seems to be great starting points, these proposals will need to be offset by funding increases for state universities to account for lost tuition, something that may not be possible depending on the partisan makeup of the state Legislature.

Hatch’s opponent, five-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, just released his plan for higher-education reform. Branstad’s plan includes offering a fixed $10,000 degree for four majors and the chance for students to reduce their debt by volunteering at the local level through a Student Debt Organization. These flat-rate degrees would fall within the most popular majors, though specifics have yet to be worked out.

Hatch expressed his concern about Branstad’s plan, comparing the flat-rate model to the for-profit education model used by institutions. For-profit universities account for 13 percent of the U.S. student population, but they are responsible for more than half of student-loan defaults. Turning the current public university model into the for-profit model will not benefit students in the long run.

The Editorial Board believes the sanctity of education should trump the business of learning, and politicians must realize this. We believe Hatch has the right idea on higher education but hope he fleshes out his proposals to prove their viability.


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