Buena Vista University is on the verge of the $20,000 mark in student tuition for the first time, and with full room and board, a student's cost for the 2003-2004 academic year has risen beyond $25,000.
University President Fred Moore, however, bristles at the idea that education is becoming unaffordable.
"There is increasing attention to college affordability, and there is a lot of conversation about whether the cost of higher education is becoming beyond the means of the typical family - and that is a legitimate concern," Moore said recently. "I'm concerned about the debate on the national level, however, because it may be overly simplistic."
A study of private colleges like BVU tracking charges through 1993 to 2000 indicates that actual costs for students may not be growing as much as people believe. Moore said that a true picture doesn't come from looking at the "sticker price" of college, but at the net cost out of the family's pocket after student aid.
"We'll spend $10 million out of our budget on aid to students... in private college budgets, there has been a literal explosion of dollars being offered right out of the budgets to assist students in attending," Moore said.
According to the study, the average private college tuition has increased 17 percent over the seven-year period studied - while inflation in general has climbed by 18 percent. So, adjusting for inflation, the net cost in terms of value for the dollar spent on college tuition has actually gone down, Moore suggested.
The level of competition among Iowa schools for top students has helped to motivate colleges in the state to hold costs down, he added, although Buena Vista total costs have been increased 6 percent this year. Economic struggles have forced BVU's hand somewhat, as market downturns temporarily reduced the school's endowment fund by a substantial amount.
Private colleges like BVU have also been shortchanged in the Iowa Values programs, Moore said. "In the original draft of the legislation, private colleges were to share equally in access to the funding (with public schools.) Now the funding available to us has decreased from $25 million to $2 million."
The funds allow for economic development-related projects involving colleges and universities, a segment of growth BVU may wish to become involved in. "We have nothing specific to announce at this time, but we are thinking about it," Moore confirmed.
The university is keenly aware of the challenges facing Iowa, and Moore feels that state leaders must take aggressive action soon. "We have to do some fairly dramatic things in Iowa... We have to do a better job at hanging onto our Iowa graduates."
The state's private schools place about 70 percent of their grads into careers inside the state, but that is well under the rate seen by community colleges, which serve many older, nontraditional students.
"Our lives in this state are pretty good," Moore commented. "But if we don't reverse our population loss, if we can't hold onto our best and brightest, and if we remain ranked low in new business starts, we are in serious trouble."
While the state has much to offer, including top-notch education, it must provide an economic climate in which people can see more opportunity for themselves, Moore feels.
The university president said he feels that Iowa lawmakers do finally seem to recognize the need for dramatic change, as shown by the new Iowa Values Fund programs, but on the local campus, as elsewhere across the state, young people are still waiting for the good intentions for a brighter future to be translated into working programs to bring them the opportunities to make Iowa a lifetime home.