Higher education is popular in Iowa -- just ask the 41.8 percent of Iowa's working-age adults who hold two-year or four-year degrees. That's higher than the national average, and so is the state's rate of overall higher education attainment, according to the Lumina Foundation. With both two-year and four-year completion rates among the best in the nation, it's safe to say the trend of pride in educational attainment will continue.
But that's not the only reason to love Iowa. The Hawkeye State is filled with recreational opportunities, numerous museums, zoos, botanical centers -- and yes, the famous "Field of Dreams." Low housing prices, affordable cost of living, and scenic views around every corner make Iowa a great place to stay. Iowa's many colleges and universities offer students the opportunity to enjoy all the state has to offer while earning a degree.
Why Should I Get My Degree in Iowa?
Iowa is home to three major university systems: The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. There are also 16 public two-year universities, as well as a good number of private institutions located in the state. Numerous online schools also call Iowa home, including Clinton-based Ashford University and those that have established campuses in the state, such as Bellevue University. And students who choose to attend college in Iowa tend to graduate; the completion rate for both two-year and four-year schools puts Iowa in the top ten in the nation, according to the Leaders & Laggards Report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2012).
When those students do graduate, there are many booming industries in Iowa looking for a few good degree holders. According to the Iowa Area Development Group, the following industries are excellent options for those who want to put down roots in the state:
- Advanced manufacturing. In 2011, Iowa's top three manufacturing sectors were machinery, fabricated metals, and food and beverage. Over 200,000 people are employed in over 4,000 manufacturing establishments across the state, making this industry an attractive draw for graduates.
- Value-added agriculture and food production. Corn fields are everywhere in Iowa, but there are plenty of other options, too. Iowa is first in the nation in production of soybeans, pork, and eggs, and second in red meat production. From farming to packaging, the jobs are plentiful.
- Information and communications technology. Step out of the farm and into the data center; the state has several of them, and is reaching out for new IT companies every year. Today, over 76,000 workers are in the IT industry in Iowa, which accounts for over $10.6 billion in revenue for the state.
- Distribution and warehousing. Iowa is in a prime location for shipping almost anything, and that pays for graduates. There are over 4,000 transportation and warehousing establishments in the state, employing over 56,000 people.
- Renewable energy and fuels. Iowa is dedicated to renewable energy, and it shows: The state is first in production of ethanol, second in wind generation output, and third in biodiesel production. Numerous other industries, such as manufacturing and agriculture, are also tied into the renewable energy industry.
In addition to great employment opportunities, Iowa is simply a good place to live. The cost of living is lower than the national average, especially in the area of housing. According to the U.S. Census data, the median price of a home in Iowa was $123,000 in 2010, much lower than the national average of $181,400. Perhaps thanks to the low prices, over 72 percent of Iowa residents own their homes. The median household income is also robust at $51,129, just slightly below the national average -- but with a lower cost of living, many residents find a comfortable life in Iowa.
Students who attend school in Iowa might not see as much of a rosy picture when it comes to tuition. According to the Leaders & Laggard Report, Iowa's four-year tuition rates average $74,426, which is substantially higher than the national average. Community colleges fare somewhat better, with a cost of $53,755 per completion, well below the national median. However, the 2014 Tuition and Fees Report from the Iowa Department of Education predicts that community college tuition will rise by 2.8 percent in 2014. That's lower than the 4.8 percent average increase per year since 2005, but it's still enough to sting the pocketbook. Fees are expected to go a bit higher too, rising by 2.7 percent over 2013 rates.
Fortunately, there is good news. Iowa offers financial aid, scholarships, grants, and the like for qualifying students interested in attending school in the state. And some educational options, like online degree programs, can help cut costs even further.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||220,090||$36,310|
|Sales and Related Occupations||151,560||$35,410|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||133,500||$22,110|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||119,420||$36,680|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||104,170||$51,200|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||87,150||$72,690|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||68,200||$45,550|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||67,560||$64,760|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||66,610||$46,010|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||50,400||$25,760|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||47,060||$27,870|
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What Makes Iowa Ideal for Online Education?
Iowa is taking big steps to help students enter the world of online education. The Iowa Public Television website hosts a searchable database of online courses offered by colleges and universities throughout the state. Students can search available courses by keyword, school, subject area, or delivery method, or browse the list of over 2500 distance learning opportunities currently featured on the site.
The Iowa Community College Online Consortium is an effort on the community college level. Seven of the state's community colleges have partnered to provide online courses to students all over the world. The site offers comprehensive information on courses, tuition, student services, and much more.
Plans for distance learning in Iowa are solidifying with clear goals. The Iowa Board of Regents is determined to increase student enrollment in online courses by 15 percent by 2016. With more online programs being added each year, the increase in student enrollment seems a reasonable goal.
Students who want to take advantage of online education in Iowa, but are concerned about how well these course credits transfer, can look into articulation agreements in place throughout the state. "Iowa did something pretty impressive: they made it very easy for Iowa students to take a class throughout the community college system, and know those credits will apply at any of the other colleges, as well as 4-year institutions with articulation agreements," says Mark Brodsky, CEO of Adapt Courseware, an online curriculum resource. "This is a huge step that many states have not yet taken, as it can be very complex to implement." The "Transfer In Iowa" program can help students learn more.
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Top 10 Degrees in Iowa
According to the Iowa "Hot Jobs" report, there are numerous jobs in high demand in the state, many of which come with the bonus of high salaries. Earning a degree targeted toward these professions can help ensure that students get a promising start in their new careers in Iowa.
- Family and general practitioners. This position requires a medical degree, available only through dedicated medical schools. Fortunately, there is one top-notch medical school in the state: the high-ranking Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa.
- Dentists. Dentists must attend dental school. But during the early years of education, students might choose to earn their associate in dental hygiene, then work in a dental office to gain experience while they pursue higher degree levels. Students can find dental hygiene programs at many community colleges across the state, and they can obtain a dental degree at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
- Optometrists. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and for optometrists, they are also the windows to a paycheck. Though there are no optometry schools in Iowa, there are many schools that prepare students for the rigors of the PhD, including the University of Iowa, Iowa Central Community College, and Luther College.
- Marketing managers. A business or marketing degree is the name of the game for these high-earning professionals. A good school in Iowa is the Henry B. Tippie School of Management at the University of Iowa. Other standouts include Iowa State University and St. Ambrose University.
- Computer and information systems managers. Computer science is booming, and a bachelor's degree can help students get in the door at the finest employers. Colleges that can help students get there include Iowa State University or the University of Northern Iowa.
- Pharmacists. Earning a PhD is a must for pharmacists. However, students can earn their bachelor's degree in any number of pharmacy-related disciplines. The University of Iowa is ranked among the top 20 pharmacy schools by U.S. News and World Report (2016). Drake University is another promising option.
- Actuaries. An actuary deals in the world of risk and uncertainty, and thus is a great asset to insurance companies. Most earn their master's degree after a bachelor's in statistics or mathematics. The University of Iowa offers a statistics and actuarial science program, as does University of Northern Iowa and Drake University.
- Sales managers. Sales managers might earn a bachelor's or master's degree. Students can attend one of Iowa's bigger colleges, such as the University of Iowa, or they can opt to earn their degree through management programs at community colleges across the state, such as the one offered by Iowa Lakes Community College.
- Human resources managers. A bachelor's degree is required to pursue a career in HR. Programs can be found at Kirkwood Community College, Iowa State University, or Upper Iowa University, just to name a few.
- Physician assistants. After earning a bachelor's degree in a health-related field, students can embark on their master's degree at one of three colleges with accredited physician assistant programs: University of Iowa, Des Moines University, and St. Ambrose University.
Though these degrees are readily available through traditional campuses, some that adapt well to the virtual classroom might not yet be offered online -- a fact Mark Brodsky sees as a potential problem for Iowa. "Although Iowa has taken some large steps toward integrating online education into the traditional college experience, they have not gone as far as some other states to create online-only experiences," Brodsky says. "Other states like Florida, Colorado, and Arizona have taken a very innovative approach and created truly virtual campuses. Iowa could lose in-state students who would prefer an online only experience."
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Top Cities for Iowa College Students
Iowa is a lot more than rolling hills and corn fields. There are several big, bustling cities and metro areas in Iowa that are just waiting for more students to join their ranks. Here's what to expect from some of the highly-populated areas in the state based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2014:
- Des Moines. This capital city and five-county metro area is home to about 570,000 people, five colleges, and several booming industries, including manufacturing, trade, health services, government, and insurance. It's also a central focus for political parties, as the first presidential caucus is held there every four years.
- Cedar Rapids. The Cedar River runs right through Cedar Rapids, home to over 250,000 people in the three-county metro area. Cedar Rapids often ranks high on favorable lists, including best places to retire, find good-paying jobs, purchase affordable homes, and even find residents with the highest credit scores.
- Davenport. Nestled on the Mississippi River halfway between Chicago and Des Moines, Davenport and the surrounding area is home to over 382,000 people. Davenport has a rich cultural atmosphere and a cost of living that is much lower than the national average.
- Sioux City. In the far western part of the state, Sioux City has over 82,000 residents and more than 168,000 in the metro area. Sioux City has made many national rankings, including most affordable housing, best places for business and careers, and food processing industry growth, among others.
- Iowa City. Home to 71,000 people in the city and over 150,000 people in the metro area, Iowa City was the state's first capital. Today the city is home to numerous tourist attractions, colleges and a diverse economy that keeps the city going strong.
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Scholarships and Financial Aid
Students interested in attending college in Iowa can find a wealth of scholarship and financial aid opportunities through the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. There are also numerous options for loan repayment and income bonuses, depending on the degree. In addition to the state-sponsored scholarships and grants, many private organizations, charitable groups, and companies offer financial assistance to those who qualify.
When it comes to online education, students should remember federal financial aid is only available to those who attend accredited schools -- so make sure before enrolling that the institution and program are fully accredited by the proper independent body. This helps ensure that there will be no snags when it's time for financial aid to kick in.
Students who are curious about distance learning opportunities in Iowa should just take the plunge -- and maybe even get credit for their experimentation. "My advice would be to experiment and take an online class," Brodsky says. "To save costs, a student could take a class that prepares them for the College Level Exam Program (CLEP) exam -- they pass the $80 exam and earn college credits. Almost all of the colleges in Iowa (except the small, private ones) accept CLEP for college credit."
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"About Us: Quick Facts," University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, http://www.medicine.uiowa.edu/about.aspx?id=51
"Accredited PA Programs," Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc., http://www.arc-pa.com/acc_programs/index.html
"Cedar Rapids' National Rankings and Recognition," Cedar Rapids website, http://www.cedar-rapids.org/city-news/more-cedar-rapids-rankings/pages/default.aspx
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Interview with Mark Brodsky, CEO of Adapt Courseware
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Sioux City, Iowa, https://www.sioux-city.org/
"State Grants and Scholarships," Iowa College Student Aid Commission, https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/content/state-grants-scholarships
"A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education: Iowa," The Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#iowa
"Target Industries," Iowa Area Development Group, http://www.iadg.com/iowa-advantages/target-industries.aspx
"Tuition and Fees Report 2013-2014," Iowa Department of Education, Division of Community Colleges, September 2013, https://www.educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/2014%20Tuition%20and%20Fees%20Report%209-9-13.pdf