Eastern Iowa’s Kirkwood Community College saw the biggest tuition increase in the state this year, although it’s still one of Iowa’s most affordable community colleges.
According to the 2013-2014 Iowa Community Colleges Tuition and Fees Report provided to the Iowa State Board of Education, Kirkwood’s tuition for a full-time resident student this year is $4,200 per term. That represents an increase of $210 or 5.26 percent over the 2012-2013 term, according to the report.
When considering all of Iowa’s community colleges, the average tuition increase this session is $113 or 2.8 percent. Although Kirkwood’s jump is bigger, its tuition still sits below the state average of $4,210.
And just six of the state’s 15 community colleges boast lower tuition rates than Kirkwood, most of which come with student fees that Kirkwood doesn’t have making their overall cost to attend higher.
“When you look at total resident tuition and fees, we are still one of the lowest three in the state,” said Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich. “And our goal is to make sure we stay in the lower third among community colleges.”
When considering both tuition and fees for the current school year, only Eastern Iowa Community Colleges based in the Quad Cities and Des Moines Area Community College have lower rates, according to the report.
Before this year, Kirkwood – along with Des Moines Area Community College – boasted the lowest rates in the state, and Starcevich said Kirkwood did that by eating into its reserves to help with the recession.
“We were trying to keep it low as people were unemployed and underemployed and wanting to go back to school,” he said.
But now that the economy has rebounded and employment levels are stable, Starcevich said, Kirkwood needs to make up some ground.
“You can only go a couple of years where you are taking out of your reserves,” he said.
Additional financial support from the state legislature would go a long way in curbing future tuition increases, according to Starcevich. The legislature last year provided more support than it has in the past, he said.
“That was a step in the right direction,” Starcevich said. “If we can continue to get that support, I think we will be able to negate some of the needed increases in tuition.”
Sixty-two percent of Kirkwood’s budget is balanced on the backs of students in the form of tuition, and Starcevich said that is too high. Should state support for community colleges continue to increase, he said, tuition rates at his school could level off.
“If we get the amount of support we really need, maybe we can hold tuition (increases) to zero,” he said, adding that community colleges are a wise economic investment for Iowa.
“Community colleges are the economic driver in the state of Iowa,” Starcevich said. “We are doing the training of all those mid-level skills where there is a huge gap in what we need.”
Tuition costs for Iowa’s community colleges vary depending on size, programming and enrollment, according to Starcevich. Because Kirkwood offers 134 different programs – the most in the state – he said he’s not concerned that the tuition hike will hurt enrollment.