Monday, September 11, 2006

The education debate

The never-ending debate about the cost of obtaining a higher education has recently garnered attention. While students are likely, of course, to object to the amount of funding allocated to financial aid, the importance of affordable education is difficult to understate.

A comparison of the levels of economic development between Eastern and Western Iowa demonstrates the importance of large research institutions in attracting business and investment to a region. Universities provide services, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for example, that contribute to the attractiveness of an area. Every year thousands of graduates enter the workforce, providing a constant source of educated employees. Within university towns themselves, the student population enables the success of a variety of unique business.

Financial aid typically goes to the neediest students and to the most high-achieving students, as it should. But what often gets over looked in the financial aid debate is the difficultly for average, middle-class students to afford an education. In order to qualify for financial aid, people need not be responsible with their earnings; in fact it might be advantageous not to be. Middle class families that are responsible savers are in effect punished. They are not likely to qualify for aid even though, they may really need assistance.

It is deplorable that this demographic is often overlooked since most of these students will in turn become the core of the workforce. Improving the affordability of a college education for the middle class is a vital component of building a sustainable workforce. The state of Iowa would be wise to consider it a top priority.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

No comments: