Building a future



The surest way out of poverty is through education. That is one true thing in America. Buena Vista University President Josh Merchant grasps the notion. That’s why he offered last week free tuition to first-generation prospective college students from Buena Vista County eligible for the Pell Grant. What a tremendous opportunity for the university to revitalize its enrollment, for Storm Lake to reseed its leadership pool and all Northwest Iowa to see how a strong community is built around education, family and community.

The full-tuition grants will be supplemented by other forms of aid, such as the Iowa Tuition Grant, to help subsidize other college costs such as room and board. In short, BVU is trying to eliminate any hurdles to first-generation college students getting on track to a bachelor’s degree.

People in Storm Lake might not recognize how huge this is. We now have Iowa Central Community College offering an associate’s degree for free alongside a Storm Lake High School diploma in five years. That has boosted our high-school graduation rate to among the highest in the state. Plus, they graduate with vocational skills or a couple years toward a bachelor’s degree through Buena Vista.

First-generation college graduates stick close to family, at least immigrants do. We personally know several young Latinos who will become professionals and business owners who are determined to stake their claim with their families in Storm Lake. They want to stay because they know this community will give them a chance.

We are especially gratified that Merchant’s plan was germinated with the help of The Storm Lake Times. We were happy to welcome Merchant, alongside former Timesman Tim Gallagher now of the Sioux City Journal, at his first press conference here last spring. We asked how Buena Vista can attract more immigrant students to help both them and the university, which like all private colleges has suffered enrollment declines. It is especially difficult given that the Iowa Board of Regents has ordered the three public universities to suck up virtually every student in the state.

Merchant responded that he had a lot of ideas on that topic, and he was going to get after them. From his days in North Florida he understood well the barriers to first-generation scholars, from responsibilities rearing little sister to holding down a job to help pay the family expenses. College can get in the way of survival. We know that he spoke with a dorm housekeeper whose daughter attends Buena Vista. He wanted to know how the university could make certain that daughter graduated on time at the least cost. That is true market research that will pay dividends.

Most of the business leaders and professionals in Storm Lake — dentist Greg Hansen, our own graphic designer Jen Olson, businessman Brad Jones and attorney Dan Connell to name just a few — have Buena Vista degrees or deep connections with the institution. They lead the community campaigns and cheer on the Beavers and urge their children to give old Boola Boola a look. Buena Vista builds Storm Lake. First-generation graduates often get up earlier, work harder and appreciate what has been given them more than those of us born to privilege and expectations.

This is how a rural community can keep its best and brightest. This is how we maintain growth and improve our quality of life. It’s how we make Buena Vista stronger and the town-and-gown bonds firmer.

Reynolds should win

People who hope for relief from the Branstad/Reynolds fiscal fiasco can take cold comfort in The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll on Sunday: Gov. Kim Reynolds, who assumed the Branstad mantle when he left for China, has 51% job approval among Iowans. But, 49% of those polled think it’s time for somebody new. We’re not sure what to make of it, other than Iowans must not be paying attention to a state about ready to fall off a fiscal cliff.

Our Medicaid privatization is a disaster by all terms: It costs more than state-managed care, by at least $100 million per year, the insurance companies are unhappy with payment as are health care providers, and the poor clients are getting less care than ever. We are cutting every state budget in sight, forcing local governments to increase property taxes. Our lakes and rivers run with poisons while state parks are shuttered. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University was defunded by the state. It’s all bad and it just seems to get worse. We give $200 million packages of incentives to slaughterhouses and fertilizer plants that would locate here anyhow and then wonder where all our money went. They are bigger spenders than Tom Vilsack ever dreamed of being.

When half of Iowans think that this is okay, the message to us is that Reynolds gets another term. The natural advantage goes to the Republican in Iowa in any statewide race, and especially a Republican who already occupies the office. Democrats must work harder. If they lose the governor’s race in 2018, be assured that Donald Trump will win Iowa in 2020 — unless Robert Mueller gets to him first. We would hate to count on that. Better that Democrats work harder and put Reynolds back in Winterset.