Political News

Private colleges' group slams U. Northern Iowa lobbying push

Posted April 17

— A group representing private colleges on Monday slammed a lobbying push by the University of Northern Iowa to get a piece of its schools' state-funded financial aid program as "despicable and greedy."

UNI has launched a campaign to convince lawmakers to make its students eligible for the $50 million Iowa Tuition Grant program, which has for decades been limited to low-income students at private colleges. The campaign drew immediate criticism from the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which said the public university is already heavily subsidized by the state and that it's now trying to "gobble up" the main state program for private college students too.

The dispute started Friday when the UNI Panther Caucus lobbying group said in a mass email that its students should be eligible for Iowa Tuition Grants, which award up to $6,000 annually to thousands of students at 29 eligible private schools. A separate $2 million program gives smaller grants to students at for-profit colleges.

UNI's email said "it's not fair" that UNI students with need are shut out of those grants when state lawmakers have cut the school's funding. It urged supporters to contact lawmakers seeking change in the upcoming state budget.

The association representing private colleges called on UNI President Mark Nook and the Board of Regents to disavow what it called a "despicable and greedy attack" on the grant program that, if successful, would essentially destroy it. Association president Gary Steinke said UNI students would deplete aid that goes to students at places such as Grand View University in Des Moines, Buena Vista University in Storm Lake and St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

UNI receives about $95 million annually in state funding, although its leaders have long complained that it is underfunded compared to the state's two other public universities. Attempts to solve the university's funding problems have failed in recent years, with lawmakers at times approving short-term fixes.

Steinke noted that the university receives thousands of dollars in state subsidies for every student it enrolls regardless of financial need. "And still, apparently, it's not enough," he said.

He said private colleges serve low-income students by supplementing the state and federal aid they receive with more than $500 million in grants and scholarships. He called the Iowa Tuition Grant "the kind of efficient public-private partnership the state should try to enhance, not destroy."

Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said budget cuts will mean less financial aid for students at UNI, which has a harder time raising private money for scholarships than the other two public universities.

"Therefore, all scholarship programs provided by the state should be available to Iowa students that attend UNI," he said.

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