Iowa community college tuition is up 3.6 percent this year, report shows

contributed photo Average cost of enrollment at Iowa’s community colleges rose by 3.6 percent in fiscal year 2024, according to a recent report.

As Iowa’s community colleges battle inflation and try to hold down costs for students, a recent report shows that tuition makes up an increasingly smaller share of the schools’ total revenue.

According to the Fiscal Year 2024 Iowa Community Colleges Tuition and Fees Report, released by the Iowa Department of Education in September, average in-state tuition is up by 3.6 percent in fiscal year 2024, which is now underway, to $198.15 per credit hour. Average mandatory fees are up by 1.6 percent, or $15.13 per credit hour.

Des Moines Area Community College is offering the least expensive tuition and fees this fiscal year, at $185 per credit hour, and Northwest Iowa Community College is the most expensive, with tuition and fees totaling $230 per credit hour.

Community Colleges for Iowa Executive Director Emily Shields said tuition and fee increases implemented by community colleges in recent years have been necessary to keep up with rising prices while still keeping education affordable for students.

“We’re seeing major increases in insurance rates, the cost of goods and services, those kinds of things,” Shields said. “So, really, 3.6 percent taken in that context is a pretty conservative amount for them to be looking at.”

Even while trying to keep costs affordable, Iowa’s community colleges are more expensive than those in other states. In fiscal year 2022, Iowa’s average cost of enrollment for community colleges was equal to or greater than 87 percent of community colleges in the U.S., according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Iowa’s community colleges ranked third in the Midwest for cost of enrollment in fiscal year 2022, behind Minnesota and South Dakota, and was around 12 percent higher than the regional average.

Shields said the difference comes down to property taxes — community colleges in Iowa have a cap on what they can earn from local property taxes, while other states’ colleges can have property taxes as a larger source of revenue.

“For example, in Nebraska, about a third of their community college revenue comes from property taxes, where ours is below 10 percent,” Shields said. “So that is probably the largest factor.”

The report stated tuition and fees made up around 46 percent of Iowa community college’s revenue in fiscal year 2022, according to most recent data available. Local, state and federal funding made up just over 40 percent of revenue, and a little more than 10 percent came from other funds, like donations and taxes.

A decade ago, tuition and fees made up almost 60 percent of community colleges’ revenue, but that number has gradually decreased as other funds increased and government funds fluctuated slightly.

Community colleges received more temporary federal funding in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shields said, and are keeping that in mind when looking at their future fundraising efforts. They’re doing more work to draw in local and private grants and donations in order to keep costs down.

“Like most of higher education, as we’re not as able to rely on state aid, necessarily, and as we’re thinking creatively about sustainability, a lot of our colleges are doing a lot more work in that area of fundraising,” Shields said.

One important thing for students to remember when looking at reported tuition is that they may end up paying much less, depending on what financial aid they can receive, Shields said.

With programs like the Future Ready Iowa Last Dollar Scholarship, which helps students fully fund their education if other scholarships and grants don’t cover all of tuition and fees, some students aren’t paying anything at all.

“That tuition rate, while it is paid by a number of our students, certainly isn’t reflective of the cost to everyone,” Shields said.


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