Guest Columnist

Voting for the future of higher education

As Iowans engage with candidates across the state in preparation for voting this November, the future of Iowa’s workforce and access to affordable higher education must be a priority. As student leaders at our regent institutions, we call on each candidate to expressly state their position on public higher education in Iowa. As Iowans vote for their preferred candidate in the governor’s race and House and Senate elections, each voter deserves nothing less than open and honest commitments from candidates on their support for our universities.

It is no secret that our universities have experienced generational divestment over the past decade and beyond. Year after year, the General Assembly has cut away at appropriations to regent institutions, and left students to make up the difference. This is not sustainable.

In 1990, state dollars accounted for about 65 percent of university funds, and student tuition dollars made up about 28 percent. This year, those numbers are flipped, and the gap only continues to grow, with students continually being asked to pay more each year, despite higher enrollments than times when state support was at its peak, creating an environment of crippling student debt. The state Board of Regents has been forced to increase student tuition each year since 2016, sometimes in the middle of the year.

These increases have forced families to make difficult choices about how to pay for unexpected tuition expenses. In fact, cuts forced students to vote to raise their own fees in order to have access to basic mental health services, previously funded by legislative appropriations.

As Iowa enters a period of record low unemployment, employers consistently complain that they cannot find or attract enough qualified employees to fill their positions. It is our universities and community colleges that train Iowa’s workforce, and continued divestment in higher education will only exacerbate these challenges. Our alumni proudly live and work in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, but data shows that our rural communities are shrinking.

We must work with one another to develop policy that encourages the next generation of professionals to develop their career and establish their roots in Iowa. As a result of this generational divestment, each of our universities have been forced to make difficult decisions because of a lack of resources, including ending support for long-standing services previously provided by our universities. This includes the closing of centers, reductions in workforce and elimination of programs. The future of these services cannot be placed on the backs of students who often are taking out large loans to pay for college. If we fail to invest in the next generation of Iowans, our best and brightest will search for greener fields outside Iowa’s borders.

Now more than ever, students and community members are eager to vote in elections to make their voices heard. We all know elections have consequences. We challenge each and every voter to ask the hard questions of candidates vying for their vote. What is your position on funding our universities? How do you plan to ensure students trained at Iowa universities stay in the state after graduation? What policies or programs will you support to help reduce student loan burdens?

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These are just a few of the many questions candidates seeking state office ought to answer for their constituents. Before you vote in this important election, hold each candidate accountable, and ask that they commit to supporting the future of our state.

• Dexter Golinghorst of Maysville is University of Iowa Graduate and Professional Student Government president. Hira Mustafa of West Des Moines is University of Iowa Student Government president. Julian Neely of Johnston is Iowa State University Student Government president. Drew Stensland of Cedar Falls is University of Northern Iowa Student Government president. Norin Yasin Chaudhry of Ames is Iowa State University Graduate and Professional Student Senate president.

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