The next president of Iowa State University lists the affordability of higher education in Iowa as one of his top concerns. Steven Leath says the state should set a goal for all Iowa students who graduate from a public university — to do so — debt free.
“We’re over $20,000 a student away from that goal, but I think we can do it if we take a multifaceted approach,” Leath said. According to the independent research organization, The Project on Student Debt, graduates of Iowa colleges have among the highest average debt in the nation. In 2010, the average I.S.U. graduate had more than $30,000 in debt. Leath says the problem won’t be fixed immediately, but several steps should be taken now to turn things around.
“I would expect in our next capital campaign student aid would be a big part of the focus of that. We also have to do a good job showing that if we can raise money, we expect the state to do their part and contribute to need based financial aid, especially in the middle class area,” Leath said. Research shows the student debt load is growing fastest among those from middle class families.
“In fact, some poor folks do have more opportunities for need-based aid than the middle class — not that (the poor) are not stressed also, but the fact that there’s a huge middle class section of Iowa that has difficulty affording college and there are few resources for those students is hugely problematic,” Leath said.
Leath is currently the vice-president for research and sponsored programs at the University of North Carolina. He will replace outgoing I.S.U. President Gregory Geoffroy in January. Leath was a guest Monday on the Iowa Public Radio program The Exchange.