Democrats in the Iowa legislature want the state to cover the cost of college tuition for about 10-thousand of the poorest students in each graduating high school class. It would be just like a program in Indiana that gets junior high kids to sign a pledge that they won’t smoke, use drugs or get into trouble with the law. The kids also promise to keep at least a C grade point average in high school. The kids who’d be eligible would quality for a free or reduced-price lunch at school or would be a foster kid.
Representative Janet Peterson, a Democrat from Des Moines, says if the student meets all the goals — the state would pay community college tuition, tuition at Iowa, Iowa State or U-N-I, OR an amount equal to tuition at the state universities if the kid decides to attend a private college in Iowa, most of which have higher tuition rates. “The program has been a tremendous success in Indiana,” Peterson says. When
Indiana launched the program in 1990, that state ranked 40th in the country in the number of high schoolers who went on to college. Now, Indiana is 9th in the number of high schoolers who continue on to college. Iowa, by comparison, ranks 37th in the country in the percentage of 25 year olds who hold a college degree.
“We’re very hopeful that this program will get legs and pass this year,” Peterson says. It will help poor kids “break the cycle of poverty” according to Peterson.
Representative Lisa Heddens, a Democrat from Ames, says college graduates get better jobs, and earn more. “By supporting this initiative…we have students (who) are encouraged to stay within the state of Iowa and you know hopefully go into the job system right here in Iowa as well,” Heddens says. Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, says it will give “marginal students” from poor families the motivation to stay in school and go to college. “In a state that prides itself on education…but pines for leadership and ideas on how to make that real, how to improve our actual education system, this is a very reasonable, practical, progressive proposal,” Danielson says.
Danielson says the only argument against the program is the price. Danielson says in the long run, investing in kids’ education will keep kids out of trouble and be cheaper than building a new state prison. Democrats say Indiana spends nine million dollars a year on its program, but even if the program begins in Iowa this year, it would be five years before any of the junior high students who sign up get to college.