As the price of tuition steadily increases at many colleges and universities, borrowing money often becomes the only means to pay for education, Iowa college students said in interviews as the current school year ended.

Students at Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, saw a constant rise in tuition over the last four years. They were expected to pay $40,670 in the 2015-16 academic year but that has become $45,230 for the 2019-20 school year. Neither amount includes room and board.

Leslie Ortiz, 21, from Houston and a junior this past school year, estimated that she will have loans totaling $38,000 by the time she graduates.

“I don’t have any savings put away for college besides the scholarships I received over the years and in high school as well,” Ortiz, majoring in biology and neuroscience, said.

The debt might not stop at graduation. “… I wanna’ go to grad school or med school,” Ortiz said.


Nick Hodges finished his senior at Coe in May, majoring in communication studies and writing. Hodges transferred to Coe after starting at an Indiana community college and realized soon his savings could not put him through a private liberal arts college.

Nick Hodges, Coe College

“I really didn’t have another choice,” Hodges said about borrowing to attend college. “I think for most students, when they make that decision, it’s kind of already married to the decision to take students loans as well.”

Hodges estimates having around $50,000 in students loans, which he said he borrowed to pay for his tuition and to contribute to living expenses. He doesn’t regret the decision, he said. “$50,000 worth of debt for a flexible schedule and the freedom to do what I want when I want is worth it to me.”

“College is expensive,” Hodges said. “You can probably find statistics that say that you could work a minimum wage job 40 hours a week 20 years ago and pay for tuition and school, but that’s just not feasible now.”


This story is part of the 2019 IowaWatch College Media Journalism Project. Student journalists working with IowaWatch interviewed students and financial aid advisers during the spring 2019 college semester for this collaboration. The journalists are: K. Rambo, Iowa State University and IowaWatch; Lauren Wade and Molly Hunter, University of Iowa and IowaWatch interns; Matthew McDermott, Cornell College and IowaWatch intern; Lily Bohlke, Grinnell College and IowaWatch intern; Omar Alcorta, Guy Tannenbaum, Cooper Maahs, Allyssa Ertz, Iran Carlos, Tanner Frost and Job Saunders, all of Buena Vista University; Logan Schroeder, Mount Mercy University; Claudia Chiappa, Coe College; Antonio Perez, Coe College; and Oliden Herrera, St. Ambrose University.

Special thanks to the following journalism advisers and professionals: Andrea Frantz, Buena Vista University; Joe Sheller, Mount Mercy University; Shawn Harmsen, Coe College; David Baker KALA Radio, St. Ambrose University.

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