Iowa Community College Costs Rise More Slowly Than National Average

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(Courtesy of DesMoniesRegister.com)

State average trails U.S. figure by 10 points over eight years, yet tab here is far higher.

Tuition and fees at Iowa’s community colleges have increased 45 percent since 2002, according to a state report that will be discussed today.

The increase is 10 percentage points below the national average. However, Iowa students pay $1,278 more in tuition than the national average, and risk being priced out of community colleges because of annual tuition increases, college officials said.

This year, tuition and fees increased 6 percent for the more than 100,000 students enrolled at 15 Iowa community colleges. That’s slightly more than the 5.66 percent average hike at the state’s three public universities, according to a tuition report that the state Board of Education will review today.

Community colleges also raised tuition at a higher rate than Iowa’s public universities in 2006, 2009 and 2010, the report said.

Tuition and fees totaled $280 million last year, accounting for more than half of the colleges’ nearly $520 million in operating revenue. State money accounted for about 29 percent of the total.

Tuition at Des Moines Area Community College will increase no more than 4 percent annually in coming years, as long as state funding remains steady, DMACC President Robert Denson said.

DMACC, the state’s largest community college, increased tuition and fees nearly 5 percent this fall, to $3,144 per semester.

The number of students enrolled at DMACC has boomed in the past decade, fueled by several years of double-digit growth.

The school enrolled 25,425 students this fall, more than double the 10,803 students who signed up for classes in fall 2000.

Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, the state’s second-largest community college, hiked tuition and fees more than 8 percent, to $3,072 per semester.

Tom Schenk, a consultant who prepared the tuition report, said tuition increased at about the same rate as state funds decreased.

“You see one increasing and the other is decreasing,” he said.

Denson said student tuition accounts for more than half of DMACC’s revenues. He would like that number to drop below 50 percent, but he said that would require additional money from the Legislature or property taxes.

“But in the economy we’re in and the political mood nationally, it’s just unlikely to happen,” he said.

Denson said the tuition increases at Iowa’s community colleges won’t affect enrollment, because community colleges remain affordable when compared with Iowa’s public universities and private liberal arts colleges.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa charge, on average, $7,533 per semester.

Iowa’s community colleges this year charge $3,430 on average.

However, tuition hikes threaten access for some students, even as enrollment continues to increase, Denson said.

Low-income students who make too much to qualify for federal Pell Grants struggle the most to afford college, said Kristie Fisher, Kirkwood’s vice president of enrollment.

“The troubling trend is access. Our tuition is more than some can afford. We know we’ve already lost some students because of cost,” she said.

To cope with state funding cuts, Kirkwood has not increased staff and faculty at the same rate that enrollment has increased. This means more lower-paid adjunct faculty teach classes, and full-time faculty carry heavier administrative workloads, Fisher said.

Kirkwood has also searched for ways to cut costs in other areas, primarily through reduced energy use, she said.

DMACC officials said they used federal stimulus dollars to update buildings and reduce energy costs. This cut utility bills by 20 percent from last year, an annual savings of $360,000.

Two years ago, the college outsourced its bookstore to a national company that increased the availability of cheaper used textbooks, officials said.

 

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