Graduate and professional students in Iowa today are facing a confluence of issues in the form of rising tuition rates, mounting debt and job placement concerns.
That has some prospective and former students choosing to pass on Iowa either as a place to get their education or a place to launch their career. But Ben Gillig, University of Iowa graduate and professional student body president, is pitching a possible solution.
He’s headed to Des Moines on Monday to meet with Iowa Workforce Development about possibly partnering in the mission to retain Iowa graduates. In that discussion, he’ll raise the idea of a tax credit program that would reward graduate and professional students for staying in Iowa by helping them pay off their debt.
“We want there to be a tangible benefit,” he said.
Details of the proposal haven’t been ironed out, but the idea is to give those students tax credit annually in the amount they pay off their student loans. Gillig said he’s received positive feedback from lawmakers, and he mentioned the concept to the Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday.
A meeting with Iowa Workforce Development is next, and Gillig said he hopes that group might be willing to act as a mediator between the regent universities and the employment community.
“The most important thing we are trying to do is raise the issue of graduate and professional student debt and how much they contribute to the economy,” he said.
Regents have proposed a second straight tuition freeze for resident undergraduates at the three public universities for the 2014-2015 academic year, and Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday said he supports the idea.
The proposed freeze, however, is contingent on a requested 4 percent increase in state funding in the 2015 budget year – 2.5 percent of which would offset tuition revenues to support the freeze and 1.5 percent of which would support performance and other areas of the board’s plan to meet goals in graduation and retention rates.
The 2014-2015 tuition proposal includes rate increases for nonresident, graduate and professional students at all three regent universities. At UI, those students would see a 1.8 percent increase, if the proposal is approved.
The student governments at the three universities have passed resolutions supporting the freeze, including the UI Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students – even though it those students still face an increase.
Gillig on Thursday told the regents that the freeze indirectly affects his constituents in the steps it takes toward restoring the balance of public and private support for the institutions. Still, he said, the state needs to go further in supporting graduate and professional students or risk losing them – and their economic contributions – to other states.
“We must do more to make sure graduate students get their degrees in a timely fashion and without much debt,” he said.
In addition to offering tax credit, Gillig said, institutions could form stronger partnerships with workforce and employment groups to place students in desirable positions.
“We need to keep our best educated people in the state after they graduate,” he said.