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Elizabeth Keest Sedrel

(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

GEAR UP Iowa program arranges districtwide testing for 3,400 high school juniors  

Nine Iowa school districts saw a marked jump in the number of high school juniors taking the ACT this year after the GEAR UP Iowa program provided districtwide testing.

GEAR UP, a federal program for low-income school districts administered by Iowa College Aid, paid the test fees and helped school districts plan and staff their test days. Tests were offered during the regular school day, many of them on the high schools’ campuses.

A total of 3,400 students—about three-quarters of high school juniors in those nine districts—took the ACT in February, March, and April. Based on testing figures from previous years, Iowa College Aid estimates that less than half the juniors in these districts would have taken the ACT without the GEAR UP Iowa initiative. Statewide, the ACT testing rate is about two-thirds.

“It’s exciting and encouraging to see the ACT testing rates in these districts go from below average to above average,” said Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid. “This test is one of the essential measures of college readiness. It not only serves as the entrance exam for many colleges in Iowa, but ACT benchmark scores determine the probability of college success. District testing eliminates the time and cost barriers for students by making it part of the school day and ensures the greatest number of students can be tested.”

The following districts and high schools took part:

  • Cedar Rapids (Jefferson, Kennedy, Metro, and Washington)
  • Fort Dodge
  • Perry
  • Ottumwa
  • Clinton
  • Marshalltown
  • Storm Lake
  • Davenport (Central, Mid-City, North, West)
  • Sioux City (East, North, West)

GEAR UP Iowa serves the high school class of 2020 in 12 districts. Two districts, Des Moines and Columbus Junction, already offered districtwide ACT testing. The Denison district chose to provide vouchers for students to take the ACT during nationally scheduled testing days. GEAR UP Iowa began targeted college readiness efforts in its districts last year through ACT preparation programs.

Find more information about GEAR UP Iowa at




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel

(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Besides financial advantages, college graduates are happier, healthier, and more involved

Higher college attainment rates are good for Iowans and for the state as a whole, according to a report released today by Iowa College Aid.

“We found clear correlations between a more highly educated citizenry and a higher quality of life in Iowa,” said Mark Wiederspan, Iowa College Aid’s Executive Research Officer. “College graduates in Iowa not only earn more money and experience higher employment rates than those with less education, they also are more likely to say they are healthy, more involved in their communities, and less reliant on government welfare programs.”

The new report, “How Iowa and Its Citizens Benefit from Higher Education,” breaks data on Iowa college graduates into a four-part array:

  • Private economic benefits: Iowans with only a high school diploma are four times as likely to be unemployed as Iowans with bachelor’s degrees, and they make less than two-thirds the median salary of Iowans with bachelor’s degrees.
  • Private social benefits: College graduates in Iowa—those with either associate or bachelor’s degrees—are more likely to assess their health as good, more likely to take part in leisure activities, and less likely to smoke.
  • Public economic benefits: College graduates in Iowa are less likely to live in poverty and to use public social welfare programs, and Iowans with bachelor’s degrees pay more than twice as much in taxes as Iowans with only a high school diploma.
  • Public social benefits: College graduates in Iowa are more likely to volunteer, donate to charity, and vote in elections.

“We’ve seen research that suggests all these things are true, but this is the first time anyone has put all this data in one place at the Iowa level,” said Karen Misjak, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “It reinforces our message that as we help Iowans advance and succeed, we help Iowa grow.”

Download a copy of the report.


Argosy University, including Argosy University Online programs, has permanently closed.

If you are an Iowan who was in attendance at Argosy University Online within 120 days before it closed on March 8 and you were unable to complete your program, you have important decisions to make and steps to take—click below.

Info for Argosy students




Des Moines, Iowa

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

Iowa College Aid executive to testify in D.C.

U.S. Senate committee considers simplifying college financial aid application

Iowa College Aid Executive Research Officer Dr. Mark Wiederspan will testify before a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday, March 12, about simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA.

The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) invited Dr. Wiederspan to speak at a hearing titled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Simplifying the FAFSA and Reducing the Burden of Verification.” Committee member Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) has proposed slashing the number of questions on the FAFSA from 108 to no more than 24. The FAFSA is the required application for nearly all forms of college financial aid, including federal and state grants and scholarships, federal Work-Study and federal student loans.

Prior to his arrival at Iowa College Aid last year, Dr. Wiederspan had published a series of papers examining the feasibility of simplifying the FAFSA. His findings suggest that a reduction in the number of FAFSA questions would have little impact on determining students’ eligibility for financial aid. Earlier this year, he authored a brief that found FAFSA verification—a process of additional documentation for which about one-third of FAFSA filers are selected—is a “significant barrier” for low-income students.

The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Central time and can be viewed live at


Elizabeth Keest Sedrel

(515) 725-3417


With federal student loans about to come due for many 2018 college graduates, Iowa College Aid and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office are warning students to beware of “loan rescue” organizations. Such organizations promise help arranging federal student loan forgiveness or other loan benefits in exchange for an up-front fee, with many companies also charging an ongoing, monthly “maintenance fee.”

“These companies can’t do anything for you that your federal student loan servicer can’t do—for free,” said Carolyn Small, postsecondary registration administrator for Iowa College Aid. “‘Rescue’ companies often go by names that imply they are government agencies or nonprofit organizations, and one even tried using the U.S. Department of Education logo.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller adds, “Other ‘rescue’ companies are criminal operations looking to steal identities and money.”

Borrowers seeking to lower their monthly payments, postpone repayment or apply for loan forgiveness should contact their federal student loan servicer directly. (The name and contact information for a borrower’s loan servicer can be found through the National Student Loan Data System,

Reliable information regarding loan forgiveness, repayment plans and deferment and forbearance can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website, Iowa also offers loan forgiveness programs, which are outlined on the Iowa College Aid website, Small cautioned against finding loan forgiveness programs through a search engine, which can yield paid results for companies not affiliated with federal loan servicers.

When contacted about student loan assistance, here are some warning signs student loan borrowers should watch for:

  • Direct solicitations via postal mail, e-mail, text, or phone
  • Requests for payment in advance
  • Guarantees of loan forgiveness, especially immediate forgiveness

Small offered a further warning to borrowers: “Under no circumstances should you give a loan rescue company your Federal Student Aid ID (FSAID) or allow them to create one on your behalf. They may execute transactions on your student loan that you do not know about and may not want.” She related the case of a borrower who was told her loans had been forgiven, when a loan rescue company had actually used her electronic signature to place her loans in forbearance. Alternatively, some companies might seek to have borrowers execute a Power of Attorney that gives the company permission to complete financial transactions on behalf of the borrower. Borrowers should avoid these agreements.

The agencies’ advice is timely because the grace period for most student loans ends six months after a student leaves college. That means May 2018 graduates should work with their federal student loan servicers now to choose repayment plans in preparation for starting repayment in November.

More information about student loan forgiveness and repayment is available through free publications from Iowa College Aid, More information about student loan “rescue” scams can be found on the Iowa Attorney General’s website at

If you think you’ve been victimized by a student loan rescue scam, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.


Elizabeth Keest Sedrel

(515) 725-3417


The number of Iowans who enroll in college and the number of Iowans who file for college financial aid are both falling, according to a report released today by Iowa College Aid.

“Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2018” outlines a drop of almost a third in Iowa’s college enrollment from 2010 to 2017. The largest decline was at private for-profit institutions. Community colleges and not-for-profit institutions saw smaller drops in that period, while Regent universities experienced a gain.

The number of Iowans who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid peaked in 2011-12 but had fallen 22 percent by 2016-17. Without filing the FAFSA, college students are ineligible for the federal Pell Grant, federal Work-Study, federal student loans and many forms of state and institutional aid.

“These two trends concern us a great deal,” said Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid. “We worry that young Iowans don’t fully understand the value of higher education, even though the benefits are clear. College graduates are more likely to be employed and earn much more throughout their lives, and they’re more likely to be happy with their standard of living.” The report also outlines how much more college graduates pay in taxes and how much less they depend on public assistance.

Other topics include:

  • College readiness among Iowa students
  • College persistence and degree completion
  • The rising price of college

“Condition of Higher Education” is available as a digital download or in print at


Iowa College Aid today announced that three college-bound Iowans are the 2018 recipients of the Gov. Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship. This scholarship recognizes outstanding Iowa high school seniors who have actively participated in the Iowa State Fair and plan to attend an Iowa college or university. This year’s winners are:

  • Ethan Marth, Estherville, homeschool

“One thing the State Fair has made me realize is the powerful effect of visual/audio media,” Ethan says. “… In 2017, I was able to watch my Grandparent Memorial DVD play on a large screen TV in the 4-H Exhibit building on the fairgrounds, and to witness in wonder as this special movie I had created was displayed for many people to observe and enjoy.” Ethan plans to attend Iowa Lakes Community College. 

  • Jessica Schmitt, Fort Atkinson, Turkey Valley Junior-Senior High School

“The Iowa State Fair is a place where dreams come true,” Jessica says. “For me, my dream came true after stepping in the show ring in the Pavilion for the first time with my heifer. I didn’t win more than a purple ribbon, but that’s OK because winning wasn’t what I was there for. I was there to achieve a long-term goal that I had set for myself.” Jessica plans to attend Iowa State University. 

  • Chloe Van Vliet, Otley, Pella High School

“Being a part of the Iowa State Fair as an exhibitor has given me the trait of being accountable, very responsible and engaged as well as the ability to develop friendships with other exhibitors all across the state of Iowa,” Chloe says. “I know with hard work and dedication, there’s always a chance at the coveted shiny trophy or the purple ribbons. When I walk into the show ring, all the long hours of preparation are worth it.” Chloe plans to attend Coe College.  

“This scholarship honors three young Iowans who have embraced the Iowa work ethic in their years of participation in the Iowa State Fair,” said Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid, the state agency that administers the scholarship. ”We’re pleased to help their efforts to further their education, and we know the lessons they’ve learned from the fair will make them successful in college and beyond.”

Each will receive a $2,000 scholarship and a certificate of recognition signed and presented by Branstad, who is now U.S. Ambassador to China. The students will be recognized at the fair on Saturday, August 11, at 6:45 p.m. on the Anne & Bill Riley Stage.

Iowa College Aid will exhibit in the Varied Industries Building at the fair. Fairgoers are invited to take part in a college-theme photo booth, and free publications will be available. Iowa College Aid staff will be on hand to answer questions about planning, preparing and paying for college.

Find more information about the Gov. Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship.     


Elizabeth Keest Sedrel​
(515) 725-3417
Monday, August 6, 2018


Three hundred GEAR UP Iowa students will get hands-on lessons in science, technology, engineering and math this Thursday (April 26), courtesy of a day at the ballpark. High school sophomores taking part in STEM at the Ballpark will attend sessions that apply;STEM principles to baseball: physics of a curveball, nutrition requirements of feeding a crowd, math of game theory and much more. The event is modeled on a similar day presented last year by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges.Students will attend the event from Perry and Des Moines, two of the 12 low-income districts served by GEAR UP Iowa. GEAR UP, a federal program that prepares students and families to enroll and succeed in college, is administered by Iowa College Aid. STEM at the Ballpark is sponsored by the Iowa Cubs, South Central Iowa STEM hub housed at Drake University, Des Moines Area Community College and GEAR UP Iowa.

Event details:

  • Date: Thursday, April 26
  • Time: 9 to 11:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (split into morning and afternoon sessions.)
  • Location: Principal Park, 1 Line Drive, Des Moines
  • Contact: Elizabeth Keest Sedrel, 515-710-1257,

Tuesday (April 3) is National Service Recognition Day, when AmeriCorps members around the country are honored for their efforts to improve their communities.

Here in Iowa, Iowa College Aid is a sponsor of 14 AmeriCorps State and AmeriCorps VISTA members through the Course to College Corps. These members work to remove barriers so that more young people can go to college. They provide one-on-one college access assistance to students and also help schools develop and expand their college access programs.

Course to College Corps members are currently at work in the following communities:

  • Cedar Rapids: 3 AmeriCorps State members
  • Estherville: 1 AmeriCorps State member and 1 AmeriCorps VISTA member
  • Fort Dodge: 1 AmeriCorps State member and 1 AmeriCorps VISTA member
  • Muscatine: 1 AmeriCorps State member
  • Ottumwa: 1 AmeriCorps State members and 1 AmeriCorps VISTA member
  • Sioux City: 3 AmeriCorps State members and 1 AmeriCorps VISTA member

Course to College Corps is made possible by grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Volunteer Iowa. To learn more, go to

Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
Monday, April 2, 2018


Iowa College Aid today announced a new round of Local College Access Network (LCAN) grants, awarding $280,000 to six Iowa communities. LCANs begin with Planning Grants (up to $20,000 a year for up to two years) and then are eligible to apply for Launch Grants (up to $60,000 a year for up to two years), Implementation Grants (up to $40,000 a year for up to two years) and Continuous Improvement Grants (up to $20,000 a year for up to three years).

These six communities received new grants beginning July 1:

  • Estherville (Estherville CAN)–Implementation Grant
  • Franklin County (Mission Possible)–Implementation Grant
  • Mason City (MCCAN)–Launch Grant
  • Muscatine (AIM)–Launch Grant
  • Ottumwa (C3: Cradle, College Career)–Implementation Grant
  • Sioux City (Sioux City CAN)–Implementation Grant

The goal of LCANs is to increase college access, enrollment and completion using a framework known as “Collective Impact.” Iowa College Aid provides grant money, training, technical assistance and professional development. Each LCAN forms a cross-sector leadership team that identifies barriers to college access in their community, as well as local assets and resources that should be leveraged. Teams then develop community-specific goals to increase college access.

“These efforts increase the chances of success for both individual Iowans and Iowa communities,” said Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid. “LCANs align community leaders and resources to support individuals who want to continue education after high school, making them more employable throughout their lives. LCANs also give local employers a seat at the table, ensuring they will have the trained workforce they need.” These four communities will be eligible to apply for a new grant phase that begins in January:

  • Bremer County (Bremer County CAN)–Launch Grant
  • Des Moines (Iowa Safe Schools, Queer CAN)–Planning Grant
  • Dubuque (Dubuque CAN)–Launch Grant Quad Cities (Q2030)–Launch Grant

To date, Iowa College Aid has awarded a total of $1,086,708 in LCAN grants. Find more information about Iowa’s LCANs on the Iowa College Aid website.