116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For the past several months, my daughter’s college plans have been top of mind.
“What ifs” began to nag at me when I hit “submit” on Zoey’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or “FAFSA.”
What if our combined efforts to plan and save prove inadequate? What if she can’t match goals with financial possibilities? What if I screwed up the FAFSA?
I worked as a college administrator for several years. My colleagues and I regularly discussed the rising costs of our “product.” We fretted over our increasingly scary tuition sticker price. We strove to ensure students knew the sticker price didn’t reflect final costs. We hypothesized about how advertising an aid-adjusted price might devalue our product. (At the time, another Iowa college raised its tuition for this reason.)
Zoey was born during this time, so the predicted average sticker price for four years’ public and private university tuition for the Class for 2026 was practically tattooed on my brain: $224,000 or $280,000, respectively.
It came to pass: Four years of tuition at Zoey’s top four choices range from $276,000 to more than $320,000. Yes, just the tuition.
Competition for admission and aid is fierce. There are many hardworking, dedicated students. They have great grades, excellent test scores and tons of community involvement and extracurricular activities. They spend hours each week on everything from researching to networking to ensure they get into their desired programs and can afford them.
When it comes to post-high school plans, students should absolutely make goals and work hard. Likewise, aid should be attainable, and efforts shouldn’t be wasted.
Years ago, a prospective student, Kayla, visited my office unannounced while at summer orientation. She wanted to ask me about work-study.
Kayla was shy and only made eye contact through a curtain of bangs. She seemed terrified. I could barely hear her when she talked. However, she was direct and clear about her intentions.
I was impressed by Kayla’s attempt at boldness, so I hired her. She had the job for four years. She also trained her younger peers. She lost the shyness somewhere along the way.
Kayla proved she’s capable of elbowing her way to the front of a line. However, she impressed upon me that there are other smart, funny, creative and enterprising young people we miss out on because we create systems that value things like perpetual gumption over other worthy attributes.
As much as we talk about what students deserve for educational assistance, we rarely talk about what we miss when we fail to support young people. When a student doesn’t pursue the postsecondary program he/she/they desire because they lack resources or assistance, we risk failing ourselves, too.
Many top students don’t get the student aid and/or social support needed to be successful after high school. Some meet the shortfall, others pivot something new and a few quit altogether.
To simply accept that some competitors are ill-equipped and will therefore miss out is akin to hosting a race without bothering to tell all runners when and where the race is, the length of the course or terrain of the route.
Instead, we should create fair competition that supports a large and diverse pool of those who finish. That’s the best way to ensure Iowa sustains and grows a viable workforce for its current and future needs.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org