Iowa community college leaders oppose student debt forgiveness, free college

By: - June 23, 2021 12:17 pm

Iowa community college leaders Kristie Fisher, left, and Rob Denson speak on “Iowa Press,” which airs June 25 on Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS)

Student debt forgiveness raises concerns about fairness to students who chose lower-cost educations, two Iowa community college leaders said during a recent interview on Iowa PBS.

Forgiving student debt does not solve the underlying issues in higher education, said Kristie Fisher, the chancellor of the Iowa Valley Community College District.

“What I’d hate to see is for students who made really wise choices and attended a community college to get less benefit than those who, maybe my kids, who went to a four-year private institution,” she said. 

Fisher said some of the students at her institution enrolled because of the higher cost of other education options. 

Des Moines Area Community College President Rob Denson agreed. He said he isn’t the “biggest fan of forgiveness” when it comes to student debt. 

“I think there could always be situations where it might make sense,” he said. “But I believe that individuals went into debt to go to college for a degree that they believed had value, hopefully they were right when they did that. So I think that they’ve got an obligation.” 

When asked about free tuition, Fisher said she would prefer to see state and federal funding focused on the most vulnerable students. 

Fisher and Denson spoke during a June 18 taping of “Iowa Press,” which airs Friday on Iowa PBS.

Enrollment declines hit the country

Fisher pointed out that community college enrollment fluctuates with the economy. She said enrollment drops when the economy is strong. Because of COVID-19, she said she expects the enrollment numbers to return to higher levels. 

DMACC saw a smaller drop in enrollment than the rest of the country, said Denson, with the average community college enrollment dropping 9.5% and Iowa’s dropping 7%. He said he is hopeful that the fall will continue to see strong enrollment as classes return to a more normal setting.

“We fully expect that when we’re opening all of our face-to-face (classes), which we will be in the fall, that we’re going to get a nice influx,” he said. “And so far our preliminary numbers, applications, registrations look very good for the fall.”

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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a third-year student at the University of Iowa where she studies journalism and mass communication and global health studies. She worked as a news reporter covering shared governance and higher education and a digital producer for The Daily Iowan since her freshman year. In the fall, she will return to the paper as a news editor. As a second-year, she hosted and co-produced "On The Record", the DI's news podcast that was named Best Podcast by the Iowa Newspaper Association.