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Iowa in Top Tier for Community College Systems

In the fall of 2015, more than 93,000 students were enrolled at an Iowa community college. (Pixabay)
In the fall of 2015, more than 93,000 students were enrolled at an Iowa community college. (Pixabay)
August 29, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa – As they dig into the fall semester, Iowa community college students can take comfort in knowing their education comes from a top-rated community college system.

A new study from the online research site WalletHub ranks Iowa 15th among community college systems in the nation.

Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College, credits the state's board system, in which elected members represent the needs of local colleges.

He adds community colleges are well integrated into the business community, so they're seen as workforce drivers for the state.

"Knowing that 60 percent or more of all the jobs in this state require more than high school, but no more than a two-year degree,” he points out. “So, our responsiveness to the government, the parents and students, the businesses that hire our students, is exceptional."

In fall 2015, more than 93,000 and students were enrolled at an Iowa community college, including 33,000 jointly enrolled high school students.

Denson says community colleges also work with local high schools on Career Colleges that combine two years of secondary education with an associate's degree in a career preparatory program. He maintains it's a great partnership.

"Because of pooled funding and community college funding, we can get the equipment, so it's state of the art,” he says. “And because all of our academic programs have advisory committees of businesses, we're teaching competencies that are absolutely current.

“And then, it’s easier for us to find an academically-qualified college instructor to teach that class."

One area that Denson says needs to be addressed is rising tuition. When the community college system was created 50 years ago, operating costs were to be split equally between the Legislature, property taxes and student tuition.

But he says increased enrollment and shifts in the economy have left the funding formula off balance.

"Property tax is now only about 6 percent of our budget, because that rate has not changed,” he explains. “State aid is right around 24 percent, and student tuition is very close to 60 percent."

According to the Iowa Department of Education, tuition at two-year colleges in Iowa averaged about $4,200 annually, a 50 percent increase from 2005.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA