Iowa State University’s president says too many students have an “unmanageable debt load.” ISU president Stephen Leath testified before a U.S. Senate committee this morning.
“We didn’t get into this dilemma overnight,” Leath said. “It’s taken decades of cost increases, state decreases in funding and poor financial decision-making by students to reach this critical debt level and we won’t get out of this overnight either. This is going to take a long-term, multi-faceted approach.”
In his testimony (which you can watch here), Leath noted Iowa State has eliminated “hundreds” of jobs, has cut operating costs by “tens of millions” and is helping students find “lower cost pathways” to an Iowa State University degree.
“Key to this approach is working with our community colleges. One-fifth of our new students now are transfers from community colleges and an increasing number of our high school students come to us already having already earned college credits, these are mostly from community colleges,” Leach said. “Both paths speed a student’s time to graduation, reduce the overall cost and reduce their debt load.”
Leath also boasted of a recent fundraising campaign which raised $236 million for student scholarships.
“Most of this money goes into endowments,” Leath said. “To put that into perspective, a land-grant university like Iowa State increased its annual scholarship dollars for students from $9 million a year in 2004 to $21 million last year. Soon we’ll be launching an aggressive, new fundraising campaign that will be focused on student scholarships.”
Leath also used his Senate testimony to chide state-level decision-makers who have voted to cut taxpayer support of public universities.
“The precipitous decline in state support for public higher education across the nation really needs to stop,” Leath said. “In 1981 in Iowa, state appropriations covered 75 percent of the cost of a resident student’s tuition…Last year that figure had dropped to 36 percent, less than half of what it was in 1981. Now fortunately we received a modest increase from the state legislature for the coming year, so we’re optimistic this downward trend may have slowed or stopped.”
This past spring Republicans in the Iowa House proposed reducing state support of the state’s three public universities, but Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Democrats in the Senate were able to prevail and, in the end, the legislature directed an additional $23 million to Iowa State, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.