Importance of College to Iowans

HAMPTON CHRONICLE OPINION: College must remain within reach for Iowans

College students return to campus in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the state’s budget mess will hit many of them in the pocketbook. Massive cuts have slashed more than $36 million from what was originally approved for community colleges and state universities this fall. Education is being sacrificed at the expense of tax breaks for special interests and out-of-state corporations.

As a result, college students will pay more. In June, Iowa’s Board of Regents decided to increase tuition at our three state universities by 5 percent for the 2017-18 school year — more than double what was expected.

A Tuition Task Force was subsequently scheduled to meet July 27 to discuss the future of state university tuition in Iowa, but was canceled when Republican legislators and members of the Reynolds Administration declined to participate. Not showing up for this important meeting is unacceptable when budget cuts have forced steep, last-minute tuition increases. Our community colleges do a great job helping Iowans prepare to fill local job openings. However, cuts are forcing them to raise tuition as well. Over the past decade, what students must pay to attend an Iowa community college has increased by close to 5 percent annually. A full-time student now pays between $4,410 and $6,016 a year. All this comes at a time when financial aid is on the decline.

Iowa’s private college students are also taking a hit. The Iowa Tuition Grant, which provides need-based financial aid, has been cut by $3.8 million from what was originally approved for this fall.

Such cuts threaten the quality of education students receive, according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities. The cuts may also drive up student debt.

Iowa’s average student debt is just under $30,000 per student. We must do everything we can to ensure that Iowa students are not priced out of an education or burdened with crushing debt that prevents them from ever getting ahead.

  To be “Future Ready,” invest more in preparing Iowans for jobs

Iowa needs an additional 127,700 workers with postsecondary credentials by 2025, according to a new report from the Future Ready Iowa Alliance. 

The report is designed to help us determine how to close the skills gap and ensure 70 percent of Iowans get education and training beyond high school. The goal is for more Iowans to have rewarding careers in high demand fields, and for employers to get the skilled workers they need.

However, this year’s cuts to education at all levels could make it tough to reach that goal — which is bad news when Iowa businesses say the #1 problem they face is a critical shortage of qualified workers.

The new report warns that “without a significant enhancement to our state’s workforce education and training our competitiveness could evaporate.” How do we keep that from happening?

The report indicates that by 2025:

• An additional 41,200 traditional students (between 18 and 24) need to earn a degree or credential.

• An additional 35,200 adult students who already have some college under their belts will need to earn a degree or credential. About 224,000 Iowans have attended some college. Many would be eager to earn a credential if we can give them the flexibility to juggle life’s many responsibilities.

• An additional 51,300 adults with no postsecondary education will need to earn a degree or credential. This includes Iowans who’ve lost their jobs, disabled Iowans and refugees.

There is a payoff for Iowans ready to upgrade their skills. Those with a high school diploma earned an average of $35,000 a year between 2013 and 2015. The average jumps to $42,000 for an associate degree, and to $60,015 for a bachelor’s degree.

So let’s ensure Iowans have access to the training they need. Let’s acknowledge what this report is telling us by investing in education and reaping the long-term returns it offers Iowans, businesses, communities and our state as a whole.

Iowa universities to require financial literacy

This school year, Iowa’s public universities will begin automatically enrolling new students into a financial literacy education program. The new online curriculum, provided at no cost by the National Endowment for Financial Education, will be available at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Topics will include:

• Building money management skills

• Surviving in a tough economy

• Managing debt

The initiative will increase student contact with financial mentors, with the goal of better preparing them to make wise financial decisions that work in the real world and giving them a bright, secure future.

Revitalizing Rural Communities for a brighter Iowa future

In her inaugural address, Governor Kim Reynolds said reinvesting in rural Iowa and our small towns is one of her top priorities. I am ready to work with her on achieving that goal.

We must take big bipartisan steps during the 2018 session to ensure enough highly skilled workers in our small towns and rural communities to meet existing business demands and create new opportunities.

A few approaches to start boosting rural Iowa’s small businesses, manufacturers and communities include:

• Ensuring safe, affordable housing for families.

• Enhancing cultural and community attractions.

• Access to reliable high-speed Internet.

• Encouraging a regional approach to economic development that supports rural revitalization.

We must also focus on workforce training initiatives. In the past, legislators have worked together to craft bipartisan solutions, such as keeping tuition affordable at Iowa’s universities and community colleges and funding an adult literacy program.

Those efforts have taken a hit this year. Like many Iowans, I am concerned about massive funding cuts to our universities and community colleges that were approved during the 2017 session. Those cuts have a negative impact at a time when we need to invest more in Iowa’s current and future workforce training.

Reinvigorating rural Iowa and small towns is a big job, but we all will benefit from the effort when we have better-paying jobs and safe, healthy, vibrant, growing communities across our state.