DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he is encouraged by the state Board of Regents’ two-year approach to budgeting, but expressed concern over a two-tiered tuition idea floated at Iowa State University that might hurt students who spend the first two years at community colleges to keep costs down.
Branstad told his weekly news conference he believes the state has made progress in restoring stability and predictability for students and families considering the cost of attending a state university but he said student debt remains high, although it has come down in recent years relative to other states.
However, Iowa State University Steven Leath last week cited a growing reliance on tuition over state appropriations for funding state universities in proposing that his school implement a two-tier tuition structure that eventually would charge more in tuition for juniors and seniors than for freshmen and sophomores. He said the phased-in change would help finance high-quality educational offerings.
On Monday, Branstad said he generally is supportive of a two-year budget request by the regents to increase state funding by 2 percent in exchange for limiting tuition increases to 2 percent for resident undergraduate student, but he raised concerns about the ISU idea of a two-tiered tuition system saying “I’d want to study that very, very carefully.”
“My concern is that a lot of our students are starting out at the community colleges because they can’t afford to go to the state universities,” the governor told reporters. “So, we don’t want to penalize them by having a higher tuition for them in their junior and senior years.”
Branstad said college tuition is “competitive” in Iowa while other states have seen “outlandish” increases, but he noted that how much taxpayer funding he and state legislators will be able to offer state universities will depend on the state revenue forecast that gets issued in December. He said it is intent to unveil a two-year spending proposal in January when he delivers his Condition of the State message to lawmakers.
College funding was the focus of Branstad’s weekly news conference where he drew attention to a “GEAR UP” (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) college access and career readiness program that provides low-income students and their families with planning resources.
The federally funded program administered by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission currently serves more than 7,000 students in 26 high schools in 12 districts, including Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Columbus Junction, Davenport, Denison, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Perry, Sioux City and Storm Lake.
With a $22 million grant and another $22 million in in-kind matches from partners, GEAR UP Iowa provides services to help students and families create a “college-going culture” to prepare students to enroll and succeed in college and careers: campus visits, job shadowing and career fairs, financial aid advice, tutoring and mentoring, said commission executive director Karen Misjak.
“These students might be the first in their families to go to college or plan their career path,” said Misjak. “GEAR UP Iowa helps them achieve education or training beyond high school by providing knowledge and resources to the entire family.”
About half of the Iowa students involved in the GEAR UP program in 2008 wound up going to college in 2014 and of those about 70 percent are still enrolled in college, she noted.
Jaqueline Guardado, a ninth-grader at Perry High School who was among a group of GEAR UP class students who attended Monday’s event at the Statehouse said the program was giving her an opportunity to attend college that neither of her parents had.
“I’m very grateful for this,” she said. “I hope one day that I’ll get to have a job that I love and is something worthwhile.”