Iowa legislators and educators are uncertain as to how a federal proposal to help address college affordability issues would affect Iowa’s three regent institutions.
Though few details have been disclosed, the proposal would include creating a system that would rate colleges based on their value for the money students spend. Those ratings, which the Obama administration hopes to have in place by 2015, would then be tied to disbursement of federal aid. The rating system intends to motivate colleges and universities to keep their tuition affordable.
Developed by the Department of Education, the “College Scorecard” would use things like the percentage of students receiving Pell grants, the average student debt incurred by graduates, graduation rates and average tuition to determine a college or university’s value. Colleges that provide the best value would then have larger grants allocated to them.
Though Iowa’s three regent institutions will experience a tuition freeze this year for in-state students, legislators said Thursday they likely won’t be able to use that as a solution moving forward. Instead, some said keeping tuition costs down will have to come from the state Legislature allocating more money to regent institutions, rather than any over-arching action by the federal government.
“I can’t really speak nationally, but I can tell you here in Iowa, as far as I’m concerned, the principle driver for tuition increases has been the decrease in state support,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who serves on the education appropriation subcommittee and teaches economics at Iowa State University.
Quirmbach said the regent universities were hit especially hard following the recessions in 2001 and 2008, and will need more appropriations from the legislature going forward in order to keep tuition affordable. This year, the regents requested a 2.6 percent increase in state general education funding for universities, which the legislature approved.
Quirmbach also said he thinks it would be difficult to accurately determine the value of a college or university.
“As far as rating the universities is concerned, I will be very curious to see how they go about doing that,” Quirmbach said. “I don’t know how you rate, in general, the value of the university education to a student because so much of what a student gets out of an education depends on what they put into it.”
The average in-state tuition at the University of Iowa for 2013-2014, including base tuition and mandatory fees, is $8,061. In 2011-2012, 59 percent of UI undergraduate students graduated with debt, and the average indebtedness for UI undergrads who graduated with debt in that time frame was $26,296.
Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, chair of the senate appropriations committee, said that, because Iowa’s colleges — both private and public — have been rated a good value in previous surveys, he feels Iowa’s colleges and universities would fare well against others if a ranking, as proposed by President Obama during a college affordability bus-tour on Thursday, were created.
“Like with anything else, there are a lot of concerns and the devil is in the details but I think with the track record Iowa colleges and universities have of being a good value, I think it would benefit them,” Dvorsky said.
In Jan. 2013, the University of Iowa was ranked 49 out of 100 for being a good value for in-state students on Kiplinger Magazine’s Best Values in Public Colleges. Kiplinger bases its rankings on data like faculty ratios, admission rates, on-time graduation rate, price, financial aid and how much debt students have when they graduate. Iowa State was ranked 85 and University of Northern Iowa was ranked 95 on that list. Five of Iowa’s private colleges have also been named best values by the magazine. Drake University in Des Moines ranked 27 in 2012, and Grinnell College, Cornell College, Luther College, Coe College and Drake University made the 2011-2012 list.
Iowa State University and Grinnell College were also named to the Princeton Review’s 150 Best Value Colleges lists in 2013. That list is compiled by examining opinion data from students, admissions statistics, how much need-based aid is given to students and cost of attendance.
Michael Barron, assistant provost for enrollment management and executive director of admissions at the University of Iowa said Thursday that, though rating systems can sometimes be problematic, the UI would support anything that could help create more transparency and simplicity in terms of college costs and how to pay for them.
“Anything that works to un-clutter and simplify the information so legitimate comparisons can be made in terms of what institutions are offering in the way of academic programs as well as costs and financial assistance to create affordability, in general you’d have to say those are good things ,” Barron said. “But the defining value has always been tricky.”
Reuters and McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.