Iowa community colleges approve tuition increases for upcoming year

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Iowa community colleges have started approving tuition for the coming school year with increases due to inflation. (Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)
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By Brooklyn Draisey, Iowa Capital Dispatch 

As community colleges work to set their budgets for the upcoming school year, inflation and competitive pay are contributing to decisions to increase tuition.

Des Moines Area Community College and Hawkeye Community College have approved tuition and fee rates for the 2024-25 school year at recent board meetings ahead of new and returning students reaching out to pay to attend classes in the fall.

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The DMACC Board of Directors approved an $8 increase in tuition for fiscal year 2025 Monday, bringing the total to $193 per credit hour. DMACC President Rob Denson said this increase is due primarily to inflation increasing costs, but will also help in raising pay for faculty and staff.

Higher education is a very competitive industry, he said, and offering good pay is important for retention. The DMACC staff and faculty work very hard and deserve a pay increase as well, he said.

“People have choices, and even more choices now because many of them can work online, they don’t even have to move to Colorado to work for an institution there,” Denson said. “So we want them here.”

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The Hawkeye Community College Board of Trustees increased its tuition and fee costs to $225 per credit hour at its last meeting, a $7.50 increase from the current school year. Dan Gillen, vice president of administration and finance at Hawkeye Community College, said addressing inflation and making up for slightly declining enrollment numbers are the main drivers behind the increase.

Gillen said the college’s property tax revenue won’t be seeing a huge bump as well, a just under 3% increase in the valuation.

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“We’re just trying to balance everything and felt if we could keep a tuition increase in the neighborhood of the inflationary rate that would help us keep the operations going like we want,” Gillen said.

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Community colleges across the state, including DMACC and Hawkeye Community College, have been raising tuition since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Fiscal Year 2020 Iowa Community Colleges Tuition and Fees Report, the average in-state tuition was $173.65 per credit hour, a 3.1% increase from the previous year. In the fiscal year 2024 report, released in October, the average tuition is $198.15 per credit hour.

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Colleges don’t yet know what allocations they will receive from the state, Gillen said, which can cause some uncertainty, but the college uses proposed budget numbers and other information to plan out as best it can just like with projected enrollment numbers.

Gillen said they won’t change the approved cost of tuition if certain allocations are different than expected, and they’ll look to other areas of the budget to make sure it’s balanced.

“It’s just one of those variables,” Gillen said, “You just need to understand that you might not get what you planned for when you do your certified budget.”

Denson said students start registering for classes in early April, and the college needs to have a tuition rate set by that time even if there are some budget lines that may change. The college could reduce its tuition based on funding once more information is available, he said, but he doesn’t expect to need to.

“I’m pretty confident that our $8 number is good, and as I mentioned to the board, we’ll still be $8 to $10 per credit hour cheaper than any of the other community colleges,” Denson said.

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