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Wednesday’s Obama visit reinforces Statehouse fight to reduce student debt

(DES MOINES) A key legislator involved in education funding hopes President Obama’s visit on Wednesday will help resolve the fight at the Iowa Statehouse over the rising level of debt carried by Iowa students and their families.

“The average student graduating from one of Iowa public universities has almost $27,000 in debt,” said Senator Brian Schoenjahn of Arlington, chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee. “That number increased by 57 percent in last decade due to falling state support for education.”

Schoenjahn, a former high school government teacher, is helping lead efforts to make college more affordable for Iowa’s middle class families. Senate Democrats point out that the state share of college costs has fallen from 77% in 1981 to just 40% today.

“Iowa student debt is going up because the state’s investment in affordable education is going down,” Schoenjahn said. “Iowa actually spends less overall on universities today than we did in 1996. That’s why tuition rates have doubled and why Iowa students graduate with so much debt.”

Schoenjahn said negotiations with the Iowa House and Governor Branstad will determine how far Iowa moves to reduce student debt this year. The Iowa Work-Study Program and the Iowa Forgivable Loan Program received zero funding last year. Borrowing by low-income students is rising quickly, in part because need-based funding like the Iowa Grant Program was cut in half in 2011.

“President Obama is coming to Iowa because the opportunities of Iowa students are being crushed by high costs and high student debt,” Schoenjahn said. “If we don’t solve this problem, Iowa’s middle class families won’t be able to send their own children to the public universities their tax dollars help fund.”

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