- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The nationwide average for students graduating with a higher education degree within six years is just over half, at 55 percent, but Iowa is among a handful of states that do much better, federal data show.

Iowa’s statewide rate for getting a four-year degree within that time frame is 63 percent. For the state’s public universities alone, the rate is higher — at 68 percent, according to the 2013 completion rates.

At the same time, the percentage of those who defaulted on student loans within about three years at Iowa’s public universities was 5 percent — less than half the U.S. rate of 11 percent.

But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday in a conference call with reporters that officials can do better to improve both graduation rates and student debt levels — from university leaders to state and federal lawmakers.

“We all need to be a part of the solution,” he said after speaking on the topic at the University of Maryland.

He encouraged college accreditors to focus on student outcomes and raise the bar for quality. He pushed states to spend more on higher education and promote reforms for student success. And he urged Congress to protect students from “unscrupulous career colleges that deceive students into taking on debt they will never be able to repay.”

Iowa’s private institutions did well in national rankings for graduation and default rates, at 62 percent and 6 percent respectively.

But Iowa’s overall averages were brought down by worse-than-average results from for-profit higher education institutions.

Iowa’s for-profit graduation rate was just 29 percent, while its default rate was 20 percent, according to the data.

In his comments, Duncan referred to the “performance-based funding” models dozens of states are using to make at least some allocation decisions, and he pushed for more to follow suit.

“We need to build on that momentum and progress,” he said.

The issue of performance-based funding is a hot one in Iowa.

The Board of Regents last year proposed a performance-based model that would have tied a majority of state support to resident enrollment and smaller percentages to progress, attainment, access and research.

That proposal could have pulled nearly $13 million from the University of Iowa and redistributed it to Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa in the first year, although the board asked lawmakers to backfill that $13 million.

But legislators rejected the funding model, citing concerns with how it prioritized graduate programs and seemed to pit the three universities against one another and against private and community colleges.

In Duncan’s comments, he advocated performance metrics that focus on results — like time to graduation and reducing student debt.

Duncan said college graduates with a bachelor’s degree typically earn 66 percent more than those with only a high school diploma. And, he said, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns about $1 million more over the course of a lifetime.

By 2020, about two-thirds of job openings will require postsecondary education, according to Duncan. At the same time, he said, college never has been more expensive — tuition at four-year colleges has more than doubled over the past three decades.

For Iowa’s regent universities, the portion of general education funding from state appropriations dropped from 77.4 percent in 1981 to 34.7 percent in the last budget year. Conversely, the percent coming from tuition increased from 20.8 to 60.7 percent.

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(c)2015 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

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