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Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

South Tama High School honored for college application efforts

South Tama High School has earned national recognition for its efforts to increase the number of students applying for college, especially those who will be first-generation college students and those from lower-income families.

South Tama was named a 2019 School of Excellence by the American College Application Campaign, recognizing the school’s “commitment to student success, and serving as an exemplary model for their state’s application campaign.”

Iowa College Aid, which administers Iowa’s College Application Campaign, nominated South Tama because of its well-organized and highly successful 2019 campaign. The school had 103 seniors participate, and 91 percent of them completed at least one college application.

“As Iowa works toward its Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education beyond high school by 2025, South Tama High School is leading the way with its efforts to raise college application rates,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “By continuing their education, these students position themselves, their communities, and the entire state for long-term success.”

During the 2019 American College Application Campaign:

  • Nearly 7,300 high schools, including 103 in Iowa, hosted an event.
  • More than 763,400 seniors, including 2,269 in Iowa, submitted at least one college application.
  • More than 1.2 million college applications were submitted, including 8,657 in Iowa.

“Congratulations to South Tama High School for its vision and leadership,” said Melissa Caperton, Director of the American College Application Campaign. “You’ve led the way in your community, your state, and your nation. We are thrilled to take this moment to recognize your impactful work.”

The 2020 College Application Campaign will kick off with #WhyApply Day on Friday, September 18.

The American College Application Campaign is a national initiative designed to increase the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families who pursue a postsecondary degree. Iowa College Aid is the state agency that administers state-funded financial aid programs and college access and success programs, including Course to College, of which the Iowa College Application Campaign is a component. Learn more at





Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Receiving their awards from Ambassador Terry E. Branstad, left to right: Abigail Kelly of Des Moines, Ruth Marth of Estherville, and Blake Van Der Kamp of Prairie City.

Ambassador Terry E. Branstad honored three young Iowans who earned his namesake scholarship today. The former Iowa Governor presented certificates to the students, who will start college this fall, in a small reception at the State Historical Building. They were chosen based on participation in the fair, extracurricular activities, volunteer service to their communities, GPA, and an essay explaining the fair’s impact on their lives.

“I’ve always been a strong supporter of Iowa agriculture and the Iowa State Fair,” Branstad told the students and their families. “I believe the fair is a great opportunity for young people to showcase their talents.”

Each student will receive $2,000 to attend an Iowa college or university during the 2020-21 academic year. This year’s recipients of the Governor Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship:

  • Abigail Kelly of Des Moines is the 2020 Iowa Honey Queen and a volunteer at the Iowa Honey Producers Association fair booth. Two of her 4-H projects about beekeeping were selected to represent Polk County at the State Fair, and she has entered honey, beeswax candles, beeswax art, photography, and extracted frames and honey frames in competition, as well as competing in the adult piano playing competition. In 2019, she painted kindness rocks and hid them around the fair. Abigail also volunteers for her local library’s reading program, plays piano at her church, and serves as volunteer beekeeper at the Science Center of Iowa. She says the fair has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow as a public speaker and performer. She plans to attend Faith Baptist Bible College.
  • Ruth Marth of Estherville has earned six blue ribbons at the State Fair for sewing and needle arts, communication, clothing and fashion, and welding, as well as five Seals of Merit and one Seal of Excellence for extemporaneous speaking and education presentations. While the Seal of Excellence was a longtime goal, Ruth says her most valuable lesson came from initially falling short and embracing the 4-H motto, “To Make the Best Better.” She is a founding leader of the Emmet County Rhythm Group, which has performed several times at the fair, and has competed in the Emmet County Fair Queen contest. She is a member of the marching, jazz, and concert bands and the varsity and jazz choirs at Estherville Lincoln Central High School. Ruth also volunteers at Good Samaritan Nursing Home, where she was named Volunteer Champion of the Year. She plans to attend Iowa Lakes Community College and to continue her involvement in 4-H as an adult assistant.
  • Blake Van Der Kamp of Prairie City credits the State Fair for expanding his horizons. Encouraged by a teacher, he entered a photograph as a high school sophomore and calls its display one of his proudest moments. Since then, Blake has served as an FFA usher and volunteered at the Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters, sheep shearing show, Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, and Farm to Fair dinner. In addition to photography, he has exhibited in ag mechanics and poultry. In his community, Blake launched recycling and school supply drives and volunteered for a local food pantry and for SportAbility of Iowa Adapted Sports Camp. His activities at PCM High School include speech competition, FFA, art club, student government, and National Honor Society. He has also appeared in theatrical productions at his school and at Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre, one of which earned a Cloris Award. Blake plans to attend Iowa State University.

“We’re very proud of these young people and their efforts to explore new opportunities through the Iowa State Fair,” Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan said. “In their essays, they all said the fair had challenged them to reach farther and higher. We’re confident that spirit will serve them well throughout their college experience.”

The scholarship is named for Branstad, Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999 and 2011 to 2017, and current U.S. ambassador to China. Also honored today was Hannah Koellner of Eddyville, the 2019 State Fair Queen. With the fair and the queen competition canceled this year, she will continue her reign until August 2021.






Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Nearly $600,000 will help continue community efforts to raise educational attainment

Twelve Local College Access Networks in Iowa have received a new round of funding to continue their work increasing college attainment, Iowa College Aid announced today. The $587,350 awarded for fiscal year 2021 brings the total awarded since the program’s inception in 2015 to $2,218,350.

Local College Access Networks, or LCANs, use a framework known as collective impact, bringing together leaders in education, business, government, philanthropy, and nonprofits to break down barriers to higher education. Iowa College Aid provides funding, training, and technical assistance.

“LCAN grants allow communities to identify the greatest needs of their students and employers,” Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. This is a model that positions students for educational and career success and communities for economic success, as well as moving Iowa toward its Future Ready Iowa goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education beyond high school by 2025.”

One-year grants were made in July to the following LCANs:

  • Aligned Impact Muscatine (AIM), $50,000
  • Black Hawk County CAN, $50,000
  • Carroll Area CAN, $50,000
  • Dubuque CAN, $49,234
  • Latinos CAN, $59,825
  • Mason City CAN, $44,361
  • Mission Possible Franklin County, $46,775
  • OPT-in CAN for System Involved Youth, $50,000
  • Ottumwa Cradle-College-Career (C3), $49,776
  • Quad Cities CAN, $37,500
  • Queer Supports Advisory Team (QSAT), $49,878.82
  • Story County CAN, $50,000

“Our Dubuque College Access Network has brought together workforce and education to assure that systems are in place for high school students to develop postsecondary plans,” said Donna Loewen, coordinator of Dubuque’s network. “DCAN has helped to strengthen connections within the community, build relationships, and provide tangible support to help young people reach their goals.”

All 12 networks that received funding have been in existence at least a year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa College Aid suspended new applications this year.




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa FAFSA Completion Campaign and GEAR UP will step up outreach this fall

Iowa College Aid will redouble efforts this fall to encourage more high school seniors to apply for college financial aid after the number dropped in 2019-20 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until mid-March, Iowa was on track to continue an upward trend in filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After that point, the rate dipped below the previous two years, according to a new report. 

“Iowa College Aid will step up outreach in 2020-21 to help more high school seniors file the FAFSA,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, executive director of Iowa College Aid.  ”Knowing how much financial aid students qualify for is a key to pursuing postsecondary education, which aligns with the Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025. The impact of COVID-19 makes it even more important to ensure students get this done.”

The report also found that FAFSA filing rates are lower for students attending high-poverty schools compared to more affluent schools. However, GEAR UP Iowa, a college access program that targets low-income students, shows promise in closing that gap. FAFSA filing rates are growing much more quickly at GEAR UP schools than at non-GEAR UP schools.

As of May 31, 52 percent of Iowa’s public high school seniors had applied for financial aid for the 2020-21 school year, down from 54 percent a year earlier, according to “FAFSA Filing in Iowa: 2020,” released by Iowa College Aid. Since then, however, the percentage of high school seniors filing the FAFSA has increased to 53.88 percent, nearly closing the gap. Iowa College Aid’s FAFA Completion Campaign includes a link to FAFSA filing rates for the state and each public high school:

Students must file the FAFSA to qualify for federal aid, state-funded grants and scholarships, and many forms of aid provided by individual public and private colleges and universities.  

Download the report here or email Iowa College Aid to request a print copy.




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa College Aid’s “Condition of Higher Education” Also Reports Mixed News for College Readiness and Affordability

The percentage of Iowans with a college degree is growing, even as college enrollment rates are falling, according to a report released today by Iowa College Aid.

As of 2017, 43 percent of Iowans had an associate’s, bachelor’s, or professional degree—2 percentage points higher than 2013, and also 2 percentage points higher than the national average. However, overall college enrollment in Iowa fell more than 7 percent from 2010 to 2018, partly due to an increase in available jobs during the recovery from the Great Recession. The Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship and Grant were not in effect until fall 2019, so enrollment figures do not reflect those programs.

The “Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2020” finds mixed results in other areas as well:

  • The cost of attendance at Iowa colleges and universities rose from 2010 to 2017, but the proportion of Iowa’s median income needed to cover the average net price (after financial aid) declined, suggesting that college is becoming more affordable.
  • Iowa continues to hold the No. 1 spot in the United States for high school graduation rates. At the same time, the state is losing ground in graduation rates for Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.
  • Iowa tied for the highest average composite ACT score in the nation in 2019. However, Iowa’s average ACT score fell by a half-point from 2015 to 2019, with Black, Hispanic, and Native American students scoring considerably lower than Asian and white students.

“Significant racial and socioeconomic gaps in the college-going pipeline remain—gaps we must address to meet the state’s education goals,” Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan wrote in his introduction to the report.

Iowa College Aid releases a “Condition of Higher Education” report every two years. Download this year’s report or request a printed copy at


The Iowa College Aid office is closed to the public until further notice. However, our operations continue.

We can be reached by phone at 877-272-4456 or 515-725-3400, or by email at

If you must meet directly with our staff, you may schedule an appointment using the phone numbers and email address above.

Please watch this website for updates.






Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Future Ready Iowa Texting Program for Iowa students begins today

Iowa College Aid today launched the Future Ready Iowa Texting Program, which will provide support to college-bound students and new college students, as well as access to one-on-one coaches.

Students who opt in to the program will receive tips and reminders about applying for college and financial aid and about making a smooth transition from high school to college. Iowa College Aid will customize text messages based on a student’s grade level and location. For instance, high school seniors might receive a reminder that a college fair is coming up at their school.

This texting initiative particularly targets prospective and current Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship and Future Ready Iowa Grant recipients, but will be available to all students in Iowa.

“We’re excited to engage students through this platform,” said Karen Misjak, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “We know young people prefer to communicate by text, so that’s how we need to reach them.”

Students can opt in to the Future Ready Iowa Texting Program at



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa College Aid names new Executive Director

The Iowa College Aid Board of Commissioners has selected Dr. Mark Wiederspan as the agency’s new Executive Director. Current Executive Director Karen Misjak will retire January 24 after 15 years at the agency and more than 30 years in the field of student financial aid.

Wiederspan, a native Iowan, joined Iowa College Aid as Executive Research Officer in June 2018 and was named Division Administrator for Research and Communications in August 2019. Before returning to Iowa, he was a faculty member at Arizona State University. He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Nebraska Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

Wiederspan is an Affiliated Researcher at the University of Michigan’s Education Policy Initiative, and his work has been published in academic journals including the Journal of Higher Education, National Tax Journal, and Economics of Education Review. In March, he was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions regarding simplification of the federal student aid process.

”Ms. Misjak, through her leadership, has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the students and families of Iowa,” said Dr. Kathleen Mulholland, Board Chair. “She truly believes in our motto, ‘Because College Changes Everything.’ We are confident that Dr. Wiederspan also embodies the values of the agency and will continue to advance our work to make college accessible and affordable to all Iowans.”

Iowa College Aid administers 12 state-funded grant, scholarship, and loan forgiveness programs, as well as federally funded GEAR UP and AmeriCorps grants to promote college access and success. The agency also coordinates the statewide school-based Course to College program, 13 community-based Local College Access Networks, and the online Iowa College and Career Readiness Academy for school counselors and other college access professionals. Wiederspan will oversee a staff of 42 full-time employees in the agency’s offices at 475 SW Fifth Street in Des Moines.




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Schools will guide students from low-income districts as they transition from high school

Iowa College Aid announced today that nine colleges and universities in Iowa will receive $929,289 in GEAR UP Iowa Year 7 College Partner Grants.

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federal program that prepares low-income students to succeed in college. Iowa College Aid administers GEAR UP in Iowa, working with 12 school districts to provide college access services and scholarships. GEAR UP Iowa follows students from 7th grade through their first year in college. Most current GEAR UP Iowa students are in the high school class of 2020 and will enter college next fall.

Partner Grants provide resources to colleges and universities so they can support GEAR UP Iowa students as they make the transition from high school. Services will begin in June 2020 and include “summer bridge” activities for the summer between high school and college, academic and career counseling, mentoring, and family engagement. The main goal of Partner Grants is to help students persist from the first year of college to the second.

“These support services will be crucial as our GEAR UP Iowa students enter college,” said Karen Misjak, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “Many are the first in their family to go to college, so they’re navigating new territory. We’ve been with these students for nearly six years, and we’ll stay with them for a seventh year to be sure they make a successful start in higher education.”

Current GEAR UP Iowa students will be the first to receive support services through the first year of college; the initial GEAR UP Iowa cohort, the high school class of 2014, received services from 7th through 12th grades. The GEAR UP Iowa Year 7 partnership involves all sectors of higher education and is the largest such effort by any state GEAR UP grant in the United States. “This is sure to be a model for other programs around the nation,” Misjak said.

These institutions will receive Partner Grants:

  • University of Northern Iowa, $50,000
  • University of Iowa, $214,500
  • Iowa State University, $215,000
  • Drake University, $12,224
  • Simpson College, $11,341
  • Grand View University, $30,000
  • Indian Hills Community College, $71,500
  • Des Moines Area Community College, $212,224
  • Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, $112,500

Learn more about GEAR UP Iowa at




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

AmeriCorps Grants Will Fund Coaches in High Schools and Community Colleges

Iowa College Aid today announced two AmeriCorps grants that will allow for the expansion of the agency’s Course to College Corps. 

The first grant provides the opportunity to recruit new student leaders to serve as peer coaches in high schools, joining the existing College Access AmeriCorps. The second grant creates the new College Success AmeriCorps, which provides for placement of college success coaches in community colleges to support students who receive the new Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship.  

In high schools, college access coaches will focus on the components of Iowa College Aid’s Course to College initiative: early college awareness, applying for college and financial aid, choosing a college, and enrolling in college. College Access AmeriCorps sites to date include 28 high schools in Carroll County, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Des Moines, Denison, Estherville, Fort Dodge, Marion, Marshalltown, Mason City, Muscatine, Monticello, Perry, and Sioux City. The number and location of additional high schools will depend on which Course to College partner sites choose to engage student leaders.

At community colleges, College Success Americorps members will support Last-Dollar Scholarship recipients, both new high school graduates and adults, to make their transition to college successful. Community colleges that have agreed to host College Success AmeriCorps members this fall are Clinton Community College, Des Moines Area Community College, Hawkeye Community College, Northeast Iowa Community College, Northwest Iowa Community College, and Western Iowa Tech Community College. More colleges might opt in to the program for their spring or summer sessions.

“We’re excited about offering more coaches at more education levels,” said Karen Misjak, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “These support systems are aimed at getting students not just to college, but through college.”

Both grants were effective September 1, and positions are open for coaches and student leaders across the state. Those interested can learn more or apply at For more information about Iowa College Aid’s college access and success coaches, visit For more information about the Last-Dollar Scholarship, visit

AmeriCorps funding is provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service. This year marks the 25th anniversary of AmeriCorps. Since the program’s inception in 1994, more than 1 million Americans have served their country through the national service program. Organizations are currently recruiting for AmeriCorps members to begin service this fall. Those interested in serving can learn more at

Iowa College Aid has also received state-appropriated funds through Volunteer Iowa for a statewide texting campaign in support of Future Ready Iowa initiatives.