Iowa Governor Pushes for Fixed-Price College Degrees

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad recently announced his plan to make college more affordable and reduce student debt.

Branstad plans to ask the state Board of Regents to enact a program that would offer degrees for popular majors at public universities at a cost of $10,000, as well as slashing the cost of other majors in half or more to create “fixed-price” degrees.  The board oversees state universities.

“This is something that we think makes a lot of sense for us to do in the state of Iowa to address the concerns that students and families have about the extreme high cost of higher education today,” Branstad said during his Drake event. “This is a concept that I believe can make a real difference.”

Campaign spokesman Tommy Schultz said the plan would be to offer the four most popular majors at a total cost of $10,000.  Those who participate in the program would have a much different college life than those who sign up for the normal four-year college program featuring an on-campus life living in dorm rooms, learning in classrooms and lecture halls.

The $10,000 program would make use of online courses and dual credits, where students take college courses while in high school.  The program would also be offered on an accelerated track, all in an effort to make college more affordable for students and parents.

Currently, tuition at Iowa State University for an in-state student is $7,700 per year.

According to Branstad, the regents may be able to afford the move, modeled after initiatives already in place in several other states, with money already within their budget.  A regent review is currently investigating money within savings that could be reallocated to cover the costs associated with the plan.

“These are bold approaches to reducing the cost of a degree, but they are realistic and achievable,” Branstad said. “We intend to work closely with the Board of Regents to make the options available to students in the future.”

In his effort to reduce student debt, Branstad is planning on working with the legislature in 2015 to create a student tax credit that would allow students to take part in volunteer activities through a Student Debt Reduction Organization.  The program was modeled after a similar program, which helps low-income students attend a private K-12 school of their choosing.

The goal of the tax credit would be to encourage volunteering within the community while strengthening tax credit programs.  Graduates who participate would have a portion of their debt paid by donors who would in turn receive a tax credit.

Branstad said that taxpayers who contribute to the program would be able to deduct the donation.

“It could be a very popular thing and it’d be a nice way to reward people who contribute to charities and to help students who volunteer,” Branstad said.