Two years of significant increases in state aid to community colleges have enabled school officials to slow the growth in their tuition rates, according to a state report issued Wednesday.
The average tuition for a full-time student enrolled for 15 credit hours at Iowa’s 15 community colleges increased by $113 to $4,210 for the current school year. That represented an overall rise of 2.8 percent for students who are paying tuition and fees that rank 44 percent above the national average, according to data contained in a report issued by the Iowa Department of Education.
Tuition ranged from $4,500 at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar to $3,833 at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.
When fees charged by 10 of the 15 colleges were added, total per-student costs ranged from $5,220 at Iowa Valley Community College in Marshalltown to $4,020 at Eastern Iowa Community College in Davenport. The average mandatory fee charged by community colleges increased to nearly $347 in fiscal 2014.
“I think the overall pattern we’re seeing this year is slight downturns in enrollment and slight increases in tuition with respect to that,” said Steve Ovel, executive director of governmental relations at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. “Because of the significant increases in state general aid that we’ve received the last two years, it’s really allowed us to hold tuition down to a fairly minimal level.”
Ovel noted that enrollment trends at community colleges have been “counter-cyclical” with the economy, producing spikes in student signups in the aftermath of a 2008 worldwide recession that have slowed significantly now that financial circumstances have stabilized.
The challenge for colleges in setting tuition levels has been a shift in funding sources in recent years, Ovel said. State support accounted for more than 45 percent of community college funding in fiscal 1999, but that gradually dropped to 30 percent in fiscal 2012 while tuition and fees rose from 39 percent to 58 percent of operating resources during that same period.
The split-control Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad boosted state aid to community colleges by 16 percent over the last two years but the $193.3 million allotted for the current budget year is roughly the same as the state’s contribution in fiscal 2009.
State aid in fiscal 2001 was $191 million, according to the state report. By contrast, tuition and fees that year totaled $163.7 million and accounted for 39 percent of community colleges’ operating funds, but gradually grew to $314.7 million in fiscal 2012.
According to the education agency report, average community college tuition in fiscal 2014 will be 37 percent lower than the average public university tuition rate, even with a freeze imposed by the state Board of Regents on resident tuition this year at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.