The president of Des Moines Area Community College says the state’s 15 area community colleges would like to be able to collect more local property taxes to support programs. Robert Denson is the newly-installed DMACC president. Denson says property taxes account for about five-point-eight percent of the operating budgets of Iowa community colleges. He says community colleges in “states that touch Iowa” get about 40 percent of their revenue from local property taxes. State law limits the amount of property taxes community colleges may collect. This past fall, 79-thousand students enrolled in Iowa community colleges. As enrollment has grown, however, state aid and property tax revenue for the institutions has been on the decline. The Legislative Services Agency recently did a study which showed per-student spending declined 95 dollars from 1990 to 2003. Eleven dollars of that per-student decline was in state aid; the rest of the decline was in reduced property taxes. Denson says community colleges need that extra property tax money to expand vocational programs. Denson says most of DMACC’s vocational programs are at “capacity enrollment” and if new sections were added, they’d be filled. Denson says students are bearing a bigger share of the cost of their education, which means tuition at Iowa community colleges is among the highest in the nation. Denson says for the past two years, tuition has paid a higher percentage of community college operating budgets than state aid. He says no publicly-supported higher ed system was developed to see that happen. Denson made his comments on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.
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