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Quality education is still affordable in Iowa

May 12, 2010
Robert D. Koob
Cedar Rapids Gazette
June 27, 2004

Robert Koob

In recent years, the Iowa Legislature has struggled to make ends meet. With the focus on reduction, an inordinate amount of attention is given to how much Iowa's universities take from the state. That's like focusing attention on how much nitrogen this year's corn crop will require, rather than on the benefits that crop will have on the economy. That's no way to grow a state, and no way for a state to serve its younger citizens. While the debate may be necessary, it tends to cause confusion in the minds of those planning for college. It should be clear to those considering college that academic quality is excellent, affordability is good and access is real.

At the University of Northern Iowa, we work hard to help young minds reach the conclusion that a bachelor's degree will light the way for their lives, their careers and their communities. Thus, the idea that perfectly qualified Iowa students may be turning their backs to this lifetime opportunity because they think they cannot afford it is very, very troubling.

High school graduates may be deciding they cannot afford to come straight to UNI. Worse yet, they may be deciding they cannot come here at all. It is the responsibility of a public university, funded for the public good, to encourage ALL its citizens to seek a quality education and to provide adequate financial assistance to help make that dream a reality.

So let's get a few things straight:

Deciding to attend UNI is like receiving a scholarship of about $5,000 per year. It's right there, ready and waiting. The taxpayers make it happen for you. You get about $10,000 worth of education for about $5,000.

It is true that tuition has increased. If the state had continued to pay its portion of the cost of educating a student at the same percentage as in 2001, tuition would be more like $3,690, rather than the current $5,397. But it's still a very good deal.

Getting a bachelor's degree versus stopping after high school is still a good investment. It is not a guarantee of success, and certainly there are many successful high school graduates, but on average, you're going to have lifetime earnings of $2.1 million versus $1.2 million in today's dollars if you complete a four-year degree. That's like winning a $900,000 lottery prize, paid out over about 40 years.

Health insurance benefits are becoming increasingly important. A bachelor's degree can be an important step to securing a job with those benefits.

We can put together a financial aid package that will allow every academically qualified student to enroll at UNI. Part of it may be low- interest loans, but let's face it -- you should be your own first investment.

People with a bachelor's degree have significantly lower unemployment rates than those without.

Having more college graduates helps increase the state's financial, social and political wealth.

In the coming months and years, we are devoting ourselves to being more creative and energetic about helping Iowans understand what a bachelor's degree can do for them. While it is true that we have managed enrollment downward, we feel that if state support can grow, we also can grow steadily.

We give Iowans and Iowa a good deal for their money. U.S. News and World Report has consistently ranked us second among Midwest public comprehensive universities. Kiplinger's magazine places us among the top 50 best values in the country. And the Education Trust recently cited UNI as having the highest graduation rate of any university in our peer group nationally.

We hate to see Iowans miss out on that.