In each edition of Iowa Ideas magazine, “Iowa By the Numbers” looks at a different data set to see what those numbers tell us. This month, we look at tuition costs in Iowa.
In September, Pella’s private Central College took the unprecedented step of announcing plans to shave $20,000 off its sticker price next fall in hopes of departing from the “dysfunctional pricing” system plaguing higher education and attracting more applicants who might not have considered the small liberal arts college previously.
About 100 miles north in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa took a similar view — freezing tuition for all students at all levels and promoting plans to continue doing so in its aim to become increasingly competitive with regional schools advertising lower prices.
But not all Iowa colleges and universities have adopted the tuition ideology that lower rates are better for access, transparency and their bottom line.
In fact, all but one of Iowa’s four-year private institutions increased tuition this year over last — including Central, which bumped rates 3.5 percent, from $37,295 last fall to $38,600 this fall. Although 100 percent of Central students receive some form of financial aid, dragging down its average net price into the $20,000s, Central — as with its private peers — has so consistently and reliably increased tuition annually that its current price is 30.7 percent above what it was in the 2012-13 academic year.
And while UNI is holding down its costs, the state’s other two public institutions — the University of Iowa and Iowa State University — increased rates nearly 4 percent for resident undergraduates and even more for students in costlier programs. And they’ve vowed to continue doing so for at least five years.
The varying tuition-setting approaches reflect the unknown ramifications of what experts agree is a shifting higher education landscape shaken into unstable territory by a shrinking pool of high school graduates, demographic changes of those the K-12 system is churning out, a strong economy with ready-made jobs and new technologies affecting how college-bound students shop for schools.
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