univ_iowaBy State Senator Brad Zaun

The Senate debated education reform legislation last week. So what did I learn? The Regents Universities have a set aside scholarship program. Big deal? Starting in the late 1980s the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa implemented a practice of setting aside a portion of tuition payments to offer as scholarships to other students. In September 2004 the State Board of Regents formalized the practice by approving a policy. The policy requires the three public universities to set aside a minimum of 15% of gross tuition proceeds for student financial aid. Each university establishes the amount of tuition set aside for scholarships of other students. The percentage and amounts vary between each school, undergraduate, graduate, resident, and nonresident tuition. My understanding is the following percentages of resident tuition are set aside for each institution – Iowa 24%, Iowa State University 18.6%, and University of Northern Iowa 15.3%.

For undergraduate resident students the current effect of the policy is that $1864 of the $7,765 tuition bill at the University of Iowa is used to offset scholarships for other students. At Iowa State University $1392 of the $7,486 tuition bill goes to other students. At University of Northern Iowa $980 of the $6,408 tuition bill is applied to other students’ scholarships rather than the direct costs of the paying student.

If an individual family saved or borrowed to send a student to an Iowa Public University, a significant (21.3% average) portion of the tuition went to other students. Even if your student received an award from a local service club, a percentage of that award went to some other student.  In fiscal year 2011 approximately $150 million of tuition proceeds was set aside and awarded to other students as need based or merit based aid. That was YOUR money, intended for students in your family, which went to someone else.

The regents’ universities probably feel they have done proper public disclosure. But I bet if you wrote a tuition check you didn’t realize where the money was going. You probably thought you were paying the education expense for your student. If you are about to send a student to one of Iowa’s three public universities, please have school officials clarify how much of your check is being set aside for some other student.

I believe this policy is wrong. Especially wrong for a state where student loan debt is considered unacceptably high. The cost of these scholarships should not be borne on the backs of Iowa families who choose to send their children and grandchildren to the regents’ universities. The tuition rate should be reduced sooner not later. Iowans deserve better from their state government. As a parent of a son that attends the University of Northern Iowa I am outraged.

I am told, with considerable emphasis, that the Board of Regents is addressing this issue and no legislative action is required. I will be watching closely.

State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) represents Iowa Senate District 32

1 comment
  1. “That was YOUR money, intended for students in your family, which went to someone else…I am outraged.”

    With respect to Sen. Zaun, where did he think university scholarships and need aid came from?  A magic pot of gold?  

    Not every scholarship is endowed (by a rich donor) or paid for by dedicated state or fed revenue.  This is long-standing practice in U.S. public and private higher ed, used to attract top students by making their financial aid offers competitive with private and public colleges, and to bolster “need aid” packages to ensure access (for low-middle income families) to higher ed.  

    The idea that this money always goes “to someone else” is fallacious.  Did Sen. Zaun’s son benefit from ANY non-endowed money?  Money is coming in, then goes out in aid and merit scholarships to H.S. students who excel.  Don’t conservatives believe in “merit” anymore?  Or better college access?  

    I agree that full disclosure is a good idea.  But If Zaun and others end this practice, the reality is it will make the Regents LESS affordable (and less attractive) to many low-middle income and top-notch high school students.  And student loan debt for those students will INCREASE, not be alleviated.

    If Zaun wants to find state money to help keep the regents’ aid competitive and replace the dollars, he is welcome to do so.  Some conservative states dedicate lottery money this purpose.  Or he can scare up charitable donors to endow some new merit/need scholarships.

    By the way, as an instructor at a private college, I find the idea that students at Regents universities are getting a raw deal quite ridiculous.  State money  subsidizes (“that’s MY money…I am OUTRAGED!) every UI, ISU, and UNI student to the tune of thousands of dollars a year.  We at the private colleges see little govt aid, and what little we do get for our students via the Iowa Tuition Grant has been decimated.  So when a beneficiary of state subsidies expresses outrage over a tilted playing field, I’m not impressed.

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