The Cost & Benefits of Education in Central Iowa

The Cost & Benefits of Education in Central Iowa

Deciding on your child’s method of education is an important part of parenthood. Whether you’re looking for a religiously affiliated preschool or a technical trade school for your adult child, the hunt for great education is important, and so is the cost. After all, children are expensive.

Here, we break down the average cost of education in central Iowa from preschool to graduate school in both the public and private sectors. 


The state of Iowa offers a free and voluntary program that provides preschool care to any four-year-old free of cost. However, if you need a preschool or daycare option before your kid’s fourth birthday, there are also plenty of private preschool options and some — like Cadence Academy Preschool in West Des Moines — that even include infant care. Unfortunately, there is no average for the cost of private preschool though the high end is $19,500 a year and the low end is $1,560.

Cost Benefits Education Central Iowa

Private K-12 Education

The average private elementary school tuition in Iowa is approximately $3,729 per year and the average private high school tuition in Iowa is approximately $8,094 per year. Oftentimes the benefit of attending private school is that there is a greater focus on college prep, smaller class sizes, greater diversity of the student body, and more extracurriculars, sports, and arts opportunities.

Private school also allows you to choose a same-gender school or one centered around a religious organization. The average cost of a religiously affiliated school is on par with the private school averages for the state. The most popular religious schools in Iowa are Roman Catholic and Christian schools. Either offer programs from preschool through high school. Parents who want a faith-based aspect at their child’s school will find private religious schools fitting.  

Public K-12 Education

Public school at the K-12 level, on the other hand, is virtually free. However, public schools in central Iowa will collect nominal fees for such things like driver’s ed, textbooks, and cap and gowns. For example, a high school in Des Moines will charge a one-time $65 fee for textbooks.

The benefits of attending public school, aside from the financial savings, are that public schools require all teachers to be certified, they offer special needs programs that might not be available at a private school, and it’s very likely that your child will attend the local public school with one (or more) of their neighborhood friends. 

Private College & University

The average cost to attend college in any sector in Iowa state is $18,708 in tuition per year, which does not include the cost of housing, books and supplies, or any other ancillary campus expenses. The average yearly in-state tuition at a private four-year university in Iowa is $28,618.

Private four-year universities are usually smaller with lower student to teacher ratios which means more one-on-one attention. As with any college experience, you can subsidize the cost with financial aid and scholarships. One of the most notable private four-year universities in the area is Drake University in Des Moines, which costs $38,916 for in-state tuition. 

Public College & University

The average yearly in-state tuition at a public four-year university in Iowa is $7,466, which makes public universities the best value in the state and decreases the burden to apply for scholarships. The only public four-year university in the central Iowa area is Iowa State University in Ames. Iowa State University is the largest university in the state and also the most affordable amongst the four-year universities — in-state tuition is $7,456 per year. Iowa State University is a huge draw to Central Iowa itself for its many cultural, performing, and sporting events (it is the third largest university in the Big 12 athletic conference, after all).  

The other largest public college in central Iowa is Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. Iowa Central Community College’s in-state tuition is $4,920 per year. One of the most interesting features about Iowa Central Community College is that unlike most two-year universities, it offers on-campus housing. 

Technical & Trade Schools

If you are more interested in a technical or trade school, central Iowa has plenty of trade and technical schools where your adult child can learn a specific skill that sets them up to enter the workforce. There are many trade schools in central Iowa such as:

  • Iowa School of Beauty in Des Moines which offers cosmetology programs.
  • University of Phoenix Des Moines Campus which offers everything from certification programs to Masters degrees.
  • Mercy College, the only Catholic college in central Iowa which sets students up to become health service providers like nurses, physical therapist assistants, and radiologic technologists.

Because of the variety of trade and technical schools and the services they offer, the average cost is harder to quantify but costs for trade schools can range anywhere from $4,402 for a program at Iowa School of Beauty to $17,600 a year for a health science degree at a school like Mercy College. 

Iowa has plenty to offer as you can see! Deciding between them may be difficult. Lay out the pros and cons of each, as well as the financial requirements to each route.

Good luck!

Haley Kieser

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