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Iowa College Aid

Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2020


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All of us at Iowa College Aid believe in our agency motto: “Because College Changes Everything.” Chapter 1 of this report outlines some specific ways this statement is true for individual Iowans and for our entire state: Individuals with a college education earn higher wages, are more likely to hold jobs, and report better health. From a wider perspective, these individuals pay more in taxes while relying less on social services, and they are more likely to give back to their communities. These varied benefits drive Iowa College Aid’s mission to advocate for and support Iowans as they explore, finance, and complete postsecondary education.

This sixth “Condition of Higher Education in Iowa” report provides a summary of college attainment, readiness, and success in Iowa, as well as a look at the true price of college. Some news is encouraging. Iowa continues to hold the No. 1 spot in the United States for high school graduation rates and ACT scores. The share of Iowans who hold an associate’s degree or higher is growing. The percentage of Iowa high school seniors who file the FAFSA is rising. The net price of college as a share of Iowans’ median income is falling.

At the same time, we are losing ground in high school graduation rates for Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. Overall college enrollment and college-going rates are falling. The average ACT score in Iowa is also falling. Significant racial and socioeconomic gaps in the college-going pipeline remain—gaps we must address to meet the state’s education goals.

As I write this, our state and our world are facing great uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. High schools, colleges, and universities have shifted to online-only models at unprecedented speed. We do not yet know what the long-term impact on students or the higher education sector might be. One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the value of education. Iowa College Aid remains committed to making higher education a possibility for every Iowan.

—Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director, Iowa College Aid


  • Currently, 43 percent of Iowans have an associate’s degree or higher, up from 41 percent four years ago. 
  • Iowa’s goal is for 70 percent of the workforce to have some postsecondary education by 2025.
  • Iowans with college degrees earn more and are more likely to be employed; report better health and enjoy more leisure activities; pay more in taxes and are less dependent on social programs; and are more likely to vote, volunteer, and donate to charity.
  • Iowa holds the No. 1 spot for overall high school graduation rate in the country but is losing ground among Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. 
  • Iowa also ties the No. 1 spot for average composite ACT score, but the average composite ACT score and the share of test-takers meeting college readiness benchmarks are dropping, especially among Black students.
  • The number of high school students taking college-level courses is increasing, but the rate of high school graduates who go directly to college is falling. 
  • Undergraduate enrollment is declining, driven by sharp decreases at community and private not-for-profit institutions and a reduction in full-time enrollment.
  • Retention (students re-enrolling at the same college fall-to-fall) and persistence (students re-enrolling at any institution) are both growing.
  • College graduation rates have fluctuated, with overall gains at Regent and private not-for-profit colleges and universities and losses at community colleges and private for-profit institutions.
  • The average cost of attendance (in-state tuition, required fees, room, and board) is increasing.
  • The net price of college (after financial aid) as a percentage of median income is declining.
  • The number of FAFSAs filed is declining, but the percentage of high school seniors who file is rising.
  • More than 60 percent of state financial aid goes to students at private institutions through the Iowa Tuition Grant.
  • Over half of first-time, full-time undergraduates receive federal loans, with the highest share at private for-profit institutions and the lowest at Regent institutions. The average loan amount is highest at private for-profit institutions and lowest at community colleges. 
  • Due to a drop in fertility rates during the 2008-11 recession, declines in high school graduates and college enrollment are predicted after 2023-24.
  • Achievement gaps related to race/ethnicity and family income could make these declines even greater. 
  • College access and success programs that integrate policy and practice could mitigate the enrollment decline.

Suggested citation:
Iowa College Student Aid Commission. (2020). Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2020. Des Moines, IA.