Board of Directors hears annual report on student financial assistance

At a meeting of the State Council of Regents in Urbandale on Wednesday, the directors of financial aid for the public universities of the three regents presented their annual report on financial aid.

URBANDALE – Financial aid officials from the institutions of the State Council of Regents discussed the accessibility and affordability of universities for students, as well as their efforts to minimize debt in the face of rising costs, at the Regents’ meeting on Wednesday.

Regent institutions use financial aid as a recruitment and retention mechanism, said Roberta Johnson, director of the Financial Aid Office at Iowa State University. Along with financial aid officials Cindy Seyfer of the University of Iowa and Tim Bakula of the University of Northern Iowa, Johnson said the trio are working to stabilize student debt.

“We don’t want to just bring students into our institutions and later find out that they can’t afford to stay,” Johnson said.

One way to close the financial gap for tuition fees is to educate students and their families, Seyfer said. That means not wrapping up the Parent PLUS loan, she said. The three regent universities have already stopped, or are considering terminating, the loan to ensure parents know that the loan is credit-based and unsecured.

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By not conditioning the PLUS loan, Seyfer continued, parents will not come to campus thinking the finances are covered and then be unable to access them.

“This doesn’t mean that we aren’t talking about this resource to students and parents and that they aren’t able to take advantage of it,” Seyfer said. “… We want to make sure families explore all of their options and are fully aware of what they will need to cover their costs. “

Seeing student debt drop dramatically is an unrealistic endeavor, she said, so for now, staying stable is a “victory.” A number of goals motivate how each institution provides financial assistance, Johnson added, and these goals often seem to contradict each other, such as affordability and accessibility.

“We’re making an interesting mosaic… to put together the best package to encourage students to enroll in our institutions,” Johnson said.

About 69 percent of students at UNI, 58.5 percent at ISU and 50 percent at UI borrow to finance their studies, Bakula said, adding that regents are ordering financial literacy training for students. .

Compared to peer institutions in the United States, Johnson said regent institutions are more dependent on institutional funding. According to data she shared from 2018 to 2019, 6.6% of undergraduate financial aid in the United States was provided by state grants, compared to 0.4% in Iowa.

In public institutions, federal financial assistance is equivalent to $ 373.1 million, the regents’ dollars still $ 273.3 million, the state grants $ 2.8 million and $ 122.3 million to outside organizations and foundations – scholarships that many students, especially freshmen, acquire when they enter college, Johnson says.

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“… In many other states, there are strong state scholarship programs that are available to help students at these institutions,” Johnson said. “So we rely very heavily on institutional support to help us, as well as on the use of federal programs and funds that our foundations raise. “

The decrease in state funding for financial aid between the 2008-09 academic year and the 2018-19 academic year totaled 60%, Seyfer said. Unfortunately, she added, there have been very minor increases in federal aid over the past 10 years.

UI has ended a Summer Hawk Grant program, which provided financial assistance to students across the state taking courses in the summer to help students who are not on track to graduate in timely, after the 2017-2018 academic year. Seyfer cited less than expected increases in four-year graduation rates and declining public funds as the reason for the end of the grant.

Fifty-four percent of the class of 2017 graduated in four years, which is the four-year graduation rate of the previous two cohorts.

Another consideration that the financial aid offices of each regent institution have taken in recent years, Seyfer said, is the basic needs and often unexpected costs that students face – homelessness, food insecurity, rent. , etc. Meeting these needs often takes the form of emergency grants, she added.

“The ways we help people who may not have real monetary value may not show up on these reports,” Seyfer said, “but are really important to the retention and well-being of our students. “