Transparency and Accountability in Iowa Tuition and Set-Aside Surcharge Scheme Is Needed
It is time to begin an open dialog and conversation as Iowa citizens and taxpayers with our elected Government Officials, the Iowa Board of Regents and our Universities concerning Iowa’s current Tuition Set-Aside Surcharge scheme. I disagree with those who imply this issue is a political election year ploy. Far too many Iowans, students and their families did not know about this scheme. There is absolutely nothing wrong with revisiting and reevaluating a scheme that affects families and students regardless of political or partisan persuasion. I was asked to provide a guest opinion on this issue, so here it is regardless of the criticism I may receive.
The public is now aware our Iowa Board of Regents and University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have been under the radar with their not so well known scheme of adding surcharges to tuition bills to pay for other students’ tuition now at the following percentages: University of Iowa - 24%, Iowa State University - 18.6%, and the University of Northern Iowa - 15.3%.
For undergraduate students the current effect of the policy is that $1,864 of the $7,765 tuition bill at the University of Iowa is used to offset scholarships of other students. At ISU - $1,392 of the $7,486 tuition bill goes to other students and at UNI - $980 of the $6,408 tuition bill is applied to other students’ scholarships rather than direct costs of the paying student.
You may call, define or refer to this scheme as you would like and prefer: subsidy, tax, surcharge, fee, welfare, redistribution, charity, scholarship, mandatory donation or whatever you want. Regardless, the Iowa Tuition Set-Aside Surcharge is compulsory and not voluntary and has operated with little transparency or accountability from the public. Students and their families are being forced to be benefactors. They have no say in deciding who will receive what they are paying and/or going into debt with interest for. If this surcharge is so sacred, make the surcharge voluntary rather than mandatory. In fact, a well-known sacred religious standard of giving, recommendation or obligation is known as a tithe or 10%. Iowa’s tuition set-aside makes tithing pale in comparison.
Proponents of this scheme are upset. Among these are recipients of the Iowa Tuition Set-Aside Surcharge. Surcharge recipients number approximately 24% of college students at Iowa’s Regent Universities. I would like to remind or inform tuition set-aside recipients of these percentages:
1. Student recipients that did not demonstrate financial need: (UI – 36.7%, ISU – 27%, and UNI – 20.5%).
2. Student recipients that are non-residents of Iowa: (UI – 27.6%, ISU – 12.7%, and UNI – 3.7%).
3. Totals of student recipients: Families and students are being forced to subsidize those that have neither demonstrated financial need and are not even Iowans; some which include foreign students - not even United States citizens: (UI – 64.3%, ISU – 39.7%, and UNI – 24.2%).
4. According to Dr. Sandy Baum of George Washington University in a presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents in March 2012, in Iowa, 26%-35% of tuition set aside dollars to undergraduates (and a higher percentage of all institutional aid dollars) are no-need.
I share from a parent’s perspective on funding college because in addition to our full-time jobs, both my wife and I worked part-time jobs and overtime for many years to send our child to college. We are working folks who budgeted, planned and sacrificed in our family to save for college. We know other parents have sacrificed more than us, and many parents could not do as we were able. We also know other parents have taken out loans, second mortgages and deferred their own retirement savings for their children’s college. Many families are not in a financial position to fully fund or provide assistance to their children for college.
Iowa Regent University tuitions are competitive and a great value, but let’s put this into perspective. When funds from the Iowa Legislature decreased, instead of making cuts, tuition was raised. According to Iowa Labor Market statistics in comparison to more populous surrounding states, Iowa’s wages are lower in many sectors. Iowans are supporting 2 major Research Universities and a Teacher University that non-residents from surrounding states take advantage of for their college educations. After receiving their education, many non-residents leave the state for better employment and higher wage opportunities. I make no apologies for putting Iowa resident students first and for being unsympathetic to surcharging Iowa students to pay tuition for nonresident students.
As an advocate from a student perspective; student loan debt is a well-documented issue in Iowa and our nation. Students have deferred marriage, childbearing, buying a home, and the ability to properly fund their retirement future to live with dignity. A simple Google search using keywords “effect of college debt” is a simple way to find out. I am a coordinator for a financial course and personally know of the life anguish and financial struggles of people resulting from student debt decades after their education.
My heart goes out to families and students who have mortgaged their lives through student debt and interest of which they were not fully disclosed or aware. There is no question that the Iowa Tuition and Set-Aside Surcharge is a substantial component of the Iowa student debt issue, and it is time Iowans revisited this scheme and did something about it.