Recent News


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.




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

$97,850 will go two new collaborative networks

Iowa College Aid today announced a new round of Local College Access Network (LCAN) grants, awarding $97,850 to two partnerships recently formed to increase education levels and meet workforce needs.

The Story County CAN will receive $47,850, and the OPT-in CAN for System Involved Youth (for youth formerly in foster care) will receive $50,000, bringing the current total of LCANs in Iowa to 13.

Most LCANs are centered on a geographic area, like Story County, while some serve a specific student population statewide, like OPT-in. All share the goal of increasing 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 hires a coordinator and forms a leadership team that draws from multiple sectors of the community: education, business, government, workforce development, and religious and nonprofit organizations. The team then identifies barriers to college access, as well as local assets and resources, and develops goals specific to that community.

“LCANs put communities in a position to support residents who want to continue education beyond high school,” said Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid. “That education not only makes individual Iowans more employable, it helps move the whole state toward our Future Ready Iowa goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education or training beyond high school by 2025.”

In addition to Story County and OPT-in, other LCANs currently in the Year I phase are:

  • Black Hawk County CAN
  • Carroll Area CAN
  • Latinos CAN
  • Quad Cities CAN
  • Queer Supports Advisory Team (QSAT)

LCANs in the Year II phase:

  • Aligned Impact Muscatine (AIM)
  • Dubuque CAN
  • Mason City CAN
  • Ottumwa Cradle-College-Career (C3)

LCANs in the Year III phase:

  • Mission Possible Franklin County
  • Sioux City CAN

To date, Iowa College Aid has awarded a total of $1,605,812 in LCAN grants.

Find more information about Iowa’s LCANs on the Iowa College Aid website.




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

Two ISU-bound students will be honored August 10

Tate Boysen of Columbus Junction and Morgan Johnston of Lenox are the 2019 winners of the Governor Terry E. Branstad State Fair Scholarship, Iowa College Aid announced today. The 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. Each of this year’s winners will receive $2,000 and a certificate of recognition signed by former Iowa Governor Branstad, who is now U.S. Ambassador to China.

Tate is a graduate of Wapello Senior High School and plans to attend Iowa State University. He has camped at the Iowa State Fair every year of his life, starting when he was an infant. He joined the Blue Ribbon Kids Club, then 4-H and FFA, and was inspired to start showing pigs and cattle after his sisters won Reserve Champion Market Hog in back-to-back years. Tate has since earned multiple awards of his own, including Division 1 Commercial Heifer in 2018 and Grand Champion Purebred Breeding Gilt in 2014. Even more than the awards, Tate values his friendships from the fair. “The friends I have met will never be replaced,” he says. ”These people have the same interest, passion, and ambition as I do.”

Morgan is a graduate of Lenox High School and also plans to attend Iowa State University. She has attended the fair with her family “every summer since I can remember.” Morgan has won ribbons for her black raspberry jam, cucumber lime pickles, and ranch seasoning, as well as a “Helping My Community” exhibit, and she has volunteered at Little Hands on the Farm and the Iowa Farm Bureau Park Tent. Besides favorite foods like the Hot Beef Sundae, she looks forward to the camaraderie of the fair. “it is huge, with thousands of people, yet you are running into people you know the whole time you are there,” she says. “And the strangers you meet are friendly and bring their small-town hospitality with them.”

“This scholarship honors two young Iowans who have embraced the value of community embodied 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 look forward to seeing how they continue to build that sense of community in our state.”

Tate and Morgan will be recognized at the fair on Saturday, August 10, 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 poll, 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 Iowa College Aid at Find more information about the Gov. Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship at     



GEAR UP Iowa invites Des Moines class of 2020 to dream big

Students who will graduate from Des Moines Public Schools in 2020, along with their families, are invited to the BIG Dream Gathering—an opportunity to set goals and map out a plan to achieve them. Details:

Date: August 12
Time: 4:30-6 p.m.
Location: Iowa Events Center
Admission: Free

The BIG Dream Gathering was founded by Mitch Matthews, who will deliver a keynote address on goal-setting strategies. Attendees will write down and post their dreams, then meet people who can help achieve them. Colleges and employers will have information tables, and colleges will accept applications on the spot. Door prizes will be awarded as well.

Amber Miller, the GEAR UP Iowa coach at Roosevelt High School, participated in a BIG Dream gathering when she was in college and wanted to bring the same experience to her students. “I was able to see firsthand the impact this event can have on the lives of others,” she says. “I can't wait to watch our students and families dream together, make connections, and begin to move forward on their dreams.”

The BIG Dream Gathering in Des Moines is sponsored by GEAR UP Iowa and Des Moines Public Schools. GEAR UP is a federal college access and success grant administered by Iowa College Aid. The grant serves the high school class of 2020 in 12 Iowa school districts, including Des Moines.

Students and families can learn more about the Des Moines event and RSVP at

Additional photos and interviews with Matthews, GEAR UP students, and GEAR UP staff available on request.



Which high schools have students who are most and least likely to file

Iowa College Aid released a report today examining FAFSA filing trends in Iowa. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a key step in paying for higher education, and the report suggests several areas where Iowa’s filing rates could be improved:

  • Schools in urban areas have lower FAFSA completion rates than rural schools.
  • FAFSA completion rates are lower at schools with a higher proportion of lower-income students.
  • Schools with a higher student to counselor ratio have lower completion rates.

This is Iowa College Aid's first report on FAFSA completion rates in Iowa. Future research will focus on reasons that certain students are less likely to file and on the effectiveness of the agency's intervention programs.

Download the report here. For questions, email Executive Research Officer Mark Wiederspan.




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