This is a turbulent time for higher education, both nationally and here in Iowa. Students, families and state leaders have questions about value, relevance and trust. More than 1.2 million fewer undergraduates are in college now than just before the pandemic hit. In this challenging environment, private, non-profit higher education provides powerful assets to students, our local communities and our state. In Iowa, private colleges and universities award over 40% of all bachelor’s and half of all master’s and doctoral degrees. Moreover, our Catholic institutions — welcoming to students from all traditions — add particular richness as we build on a foundation of values, character and faith.
We offer an education rooted in the important skill development obtained through the liberal arts and in preparing our students for professional success. We strive to be relentlessly relevant, as evidenced by our focus on ethics and the application of learning in the workplace and world. Each of our institutions reaches out to employers in our communities, listens to their needs and responds with new programs and initiatives. We also listen to student and parent interests and ensure we deliver a strong return on investment in a supportive environment.
Higher education matters — and a bachelor’s degree increases lifetime earnings by an average of $1 million over a high-school education. Our private colleges and universities provide financial aid that makes our education affordable. Across the country, a student’s net tuition cost at a private institution is lower than in 2009. Furthermore, we have an excellent track record of helping students graduate in four years, enabling them to minimize debt and enter the workforce on time. Every student who attends a private university in Iowa rather than attending a Regents university saves our taxpayers about $13,000.
With the aid of the Iowa Tuition Grant, private colleges and universities are providing increasing opportunities for traditionally underserved students. About one-fourth of our students are the first in their family to attend college, one-third are minority students and one-third are eligible for federal Pell Grants.
The doors open to college graduates make the hard work of college worth it and the moderate cost is an excellent investment. Furthermore, the value of higher education is more than just economic. Americans with a college degree feel more socially connected and civically engaged and are more active in their communities than people who did not attend college.
As a result, college graduates report feeling less lonely or isolated. Our Catholic difference centers on a commitment to serve others and we see this commitment come to life each day in our students and alums. Our institutions are a labor force incubator for our respective communities. Our graduates also play a pivotal role in shaping the social fabric of our societies. We graduate students committed to working as leaders in churches, non-profits and the social service sector. While these positions may pay less than others, they are critically important for the well-being of our state.
Iowa thrives with an educated, engaged citizenry. Private higher education makes a positive difference all across our state and our Catholic institutions offer particular benefits and a supportive environment to learn and grow. Our graduates contribute in many ways to economic and civic life. We are proud to play a significant part in educating and empowering students, in building our local communities, and in helping our state grow stronger.
(Clarke University, Loras College, Mount Mercy University and St. Ambrose University are members of the Iowa Catholic Collegiate Association, sharing a purpose to ensure Catholic higher education continues to provide students with collegiate experiences that promote the integration of faith and reason.)