The University of Iowa’s tuition continues to be the lowest in the Big Ten. For the seventh year in a row, Iowa has been ranked among the top 25 public universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Through rounds of budget cuts and uncertain financial times, the fact that The University of Iowa still offers an outstanding, affordable education is a “testament to its people and to its dedication to excellence,” says Mark Warner, director of student financial aid.
“Our budget’s taken a hit. Like most other institutions, we’ve had to raise tuition. But it’s so important that we maintain, and even enhance, the quality of education,” Warner says. “I think that if parents and students look at a college education as an investment, though not always without some financial challenges, they’ll see Iowa is quite a deal.”
To help seal the deal, Warner and his staff members work with families to develop some of the best financial aid packages possible. The term “financial aid” includes grants, scholarships, loans, and on-campus student employment from federal, state, University, or private funding sources.
About 90 percent of UI students receive some amount of financial aid from one or more sources.
For more than 30 years, The University of Iowa has set aside a percentage of tuition revenue specifically to support University grants and scholarships. For undergraduates during the 2005-06 academic year, it’s about $20 million—more than double what University students receive through the Federal Pell Grant, which is the largest federal government grant. For graduate and professional students, the tuition set-aside is $15 million.
One of the biggest mistakes some families make, Warner says, is failing to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they assume they won’t qualify for assistance.
Financial need is defined as the cost of attendance less what a family should be able to contribute to a son’s or daughter’s education. The federal formula to determine need is a standard used by all institutions. It helps determine a family’s ability to pay, Warner says, though it does not necessarily help establish their willingness to pay.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to fill out the FAFSA,” Warner says. “Even if you don’t qualify for the more desirable awards, there are still many attractive options available, such as low-interest federal student loans and private alternative loans. These have a variety of repayment options, including starting repayment after graduation.”
Whether they are in-staters or out-of-staters, scholarship winners or those who take out loans, students will be students, says Bridget Henry. They’ll question costs, rally for fairness, and passionately discuss issues most important to them because, she says, finding their own voice is an essential part of the college experience.
Henry, a senior in political science from Clinton, Iowa, is a three-year member of the Financial Aid Advisory Committee, a UI charter committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students.
Of all the issues facing students these days, Henry says, tuition costs are usually top on the list.
“I think the biggest concerns involve the double-digit increases at the same time the Iowa legislature is cutting the University’s funding,” Henry says.
Henry, who receives financial aid in the form of scholarships, says that despite the budget woes, she and her friends haven’t noticed any difference in the quality of education at Iowa.
“Most students realize and appreciate that they’re getting a good, solid education for a relatively reasonable cost,” she says. “Tuition is a big issue here, but at the same time, what we’re getting out of it is so much more than just a degree.”
by Amy Schoon