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News Analysis: October 29, 2007

posted on October 29, 2007 at 6:01 PM

News this week is forming on several fronts, and here to help us sort through the headlines is Jeneane Beck.

Yepsen: Good to see you, Jeneane.

Beck: Thanks, David.

Yepsen: You were at the statehouse today where a legislative committee was talking about the rising student debt in Iowa. Fill us in.

Beck: They're having two days worth of hearings on this issue. They heard from Robert Shireman. He is the president of a group called the institute for college access and success out of California. Basically he said there are three reasons that Iowa has some of the Iowa highest college student debt in the nation.

One, high tuition of the community colleges, where many low income families send students. A lack of grant aid at both the community colleges and the public universities. You know, tuition has gone up at those institutions, but grant aid has not been kept up with that.

And finally, easy access to private loans. He says too many of the universities now package private loans as part of their financial aid package to make it look like the student has a lower bottom line or the parent has a lower bottom line. They can finance more of it and pay it when they get out.

The problem is sometimes that debt is just not smart debt, he's saying. They should be going for federal loans that have a fixed interest rate, that have prepayment options based on how much you actually earn when you get out of college and can be deferred in case of a hardship and things like that.

Yepsen: Okay, that's a good description of the problem. What are lawmakers saying they want to try to do about it? Anything?

Beck: Not yet. They're holding these two days worth of hearings. They today just listened. I think there might be some talk of trying to increase aid at the universities, but the problem is, as you know, the state budget is pretty darn tight. So I don't know if there will be the money to do that. They've also been looking into the student loan liquidity corporation, which is something they set up in the late 70s. They're concerned that maybe it's pushing students toward private loans that are maybe higher interest rate than they'd like, so they might take a look at that industry and see if there's something they can do. But I don't know how much they can do.

Yepsen: Speaking of tuition, the Board of Regents has a meeting coming up. Is there going to be a tuition hike?

Beck: Probably. Probably about 3 or 4 percent. They talked about trying to hold tuition to sort of the higher education inflation rate, which is usually 3 to 4 percent, but they would like to see tuition continue to go up at that inflation rate so that they can continue to pay university faculty what they need, recruit new faculty. So I think they'll at least request that at the regents meeting.

They're also going to talk about naming rights. That came under scrutiny when Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield asked that the Public Health College at the University of Iowa be named after them. They were going to give them a lot of money to do that.

And that's going to be the on the table, and also whether or not to arm campus security. You know, after the Virginia Tech shooting, there's been talk that maybe campus security after all these years needs to be armed. The presidents of the three universities say it's time, and now the Board of Regents will possibly make a decision this week.

Yepsen: What's your guess on what they're going to do on the gun issue?

Beck: I think that they'll decide it's time. I think they're moving in that direction. I think the president of the board of regents thinks it's wise. There are college presidents at the three schools -- these are all liberal institutions in some cases that are just not comfortable with it. But you've got Iowa City, more attacks on campus of young ladies in the evening hours. It makes the case in many people's minds for arming their campus security.

Yepsen: And don't most campuses around the country arm their --

Beck: Yes. We're one of very few that do not.

Yepsen: And this naming rights controversy, it seems like much ado about nothing. What cares if they put a name on a building if somebody writes a check for it?

Beck: Well, I think it -- you know, yes, in one sense that we want our universities to have -- I mean buildings already have names on campus of old professors or old presidents, so in one sense you’re right, there's not much of a big deal over it. But I think it’s more of a nostalgia, in a way, that we don’t like this whole idea that, you know, the Five Seasons Center is now the U.S. Cellular Center, things like that. I think people are just uncomfortable with it more than anything. But I think the universities are looking at that money thinking we need it and we're going to do it.

Yepsen: Talking about tuition for a moment. Is there some way that the Rgents can give some predictability to these increases? I hear from parents -- from my own experience, it isn't so much the tuition goes up, it's that you can't plan for it. Is there any talk of trying to do something about that?

Beck: Well, they've talked to the legislature about that and said, look, if you put us on this four-year plan of this $40 million over the next four years, then we could hold the line on tuition. There have -- the problem is anything that's going to be funded by state government is at the whim of ups and downturns in the economy and taxpayer revenue, and if taxpayer money sinks, unfortunately the same people that are paying into the coffers now have less money to pay the universities, and the universities need more.

Yepsen: We’ve only got about 20 seconds left. A new poll out today of caucus goers.

Beck: That's right. Romney still a big lead in Iowa. Let me pull out those numbers. Thirty-six percent. But it's the second place, it's up for grabs here in Iowa among republicans. Giuliani at 13 percent. Mike Huckabee at 12 percent and Fred Thompson at 11 percent. So among the Republicans, second place up for grabs. Edwards dropped a bit from 20 percent to 26. He's down in third place now. Clinton got the lead and Obama is second.

Yepsen: Jeneane, thank you very much.

Beck: Thank you.

Tags: debt education Iowa news students