With rising post-secondary education costs nationwide, officials at Indian Hills Community College are like their counterparts around the country in paying particularly close attention to the cost of tuition and its potential impact on future enrollment.

Tuition is more of a consideration in IHCC finances now than in the past. In the 1975-76 academic year, 16.8 percent of the college’s revenue was generated through tuition; by last year that percentage had grown to more than 50 percent.

Going back to 1988 the Indian Hills Board of Trustees made the unprecedented decision to keep tuition rates the same for the fourth consecutive year. Citing economic conditions and recent state funding measures as reasons for the move tuition was approved at $30 per credit hour for Iowa residents and $45 for out-of-state students.

For the current academic year, the tuition numbers are $180 per credit hour for in-state students and $240 for out-of-state students. Current IHCC Board of Trustees President John Pothoven says determining what to do with tuition is something the board agonizes over each year. “It’s one of our most difficult decisions. We are very proud of the fact we have kept our tuition relatively low over the years,” he said. Pothoven pointed out that Indian Hills has the fourth-lowest tuition among Iowa’s community colleges and said he thinks the two-year schools are still a bargain when it comes to post-secondary education.

The Annual Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report for this year notes the current average annual cost of enrollment (tuition and mandatory fees) for a full-time Iowa resident taking 24 credit hours is $4,353 at the state’s community colleges compared to $9,064 at Iowa’s public universities.

While tuition costs have spiked in recent years, there has been a corresponding decrease in state aid, and Indian Hills President Dr. Marlene Sprouse says, “We are always working with legislators to keep state aid at a level that helps us maintain quality programs and operations. We use our private sector partners to help support equipment so that students in a particular program are not saddled with all the expense of that program.”

Various financial aid options and other educational supports are available to students who need help in financing the cost of their education, one way colleges can help offset higher tuition costs. The Indian Hills Foundation was created with the goal of providing scholarships to help deserving students pay for the cost of attending college. Last year 755 students received nearly $1.6 million in scholarships through the IHCC Foundation.

Financial assistance also comes from state-funded financial aid programs. The federal government administers a number of need-based grants, the largest of which is the federal Pell Grant. In the most recent year that data was available, 1,386 IHCC students received a Pell Grant with more than $5.4 million disbursed.

For those who take out federal student loans to help pay their college costs, they must repay those loans in a timely manner. Those who fail to do so risk going into default. Figures show this is an area where Indian Hills has seen a marked improvement in recent years. “In 2013 our student loan default rate was 29.7 percent,” Dr. Sprouse explained. “Now, it’s 19.3 percent. Many factors go into this lower percentage. One is that students are not borrowing as much overall. But the amount of debt they might incur definitely enters into our thinking when establishing our tuition rates. We don’t want students to come out with large debt. Instead, we want them to be able to use their degrees to improve their lives.”

This is a monthly column, provided by Indian Hills Community College.

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