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"Future Ready Iowa": Is Community College the Answer?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has called the rising student loan debt, which as tripled since 2007, a "crisis" in higher education. (grandview.edu)
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has called the rising student loan debt, which as tripled since 2007, a "crisis" in higher education. (grandview.edu)
December 14, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa has a unique problem – it's the only region in the country where job openings outnumber unemployed job seekers. Advocates of community college say they could help fill that gap if more students considered a two-year degree.

The Iowa governor's "Future Ready Iowa" initiative includes a higher-ed credential for 70 percent of all state residents by 2025, compared to the current 58 percent. Des Moines Area Community College President Rob Denson says too many Iowans still don't access the educational opportunities in their own backyard.

"We think that many students really don't understand the good opportunities that may even be available in their own hometown,” says Denson. “That they could actually graduate from high school, go to a community college for one or two years and then, pick up a skill that pays extremely well."

Denson says the most obvious reason that students attend community college is the financial advantage, but they also feature flexibility and smaller classes.

Sixty percent of jobs in Iowa require more than a high-school diploma, but no more than a two-year degree. Denson says many jobs listed on the Iowa Workforce Development website require minimal investment of time and financial resources – and federal dollars are often available for tuition.

"Information technology – we now have two-year IT graduates in the central Iowa area making $90,000 a year,” says Denson. “Advanced manufacturing, tool-and-die, health care – tremendous demand, so those jobs pay very well."

Denson says high school counselors need to be ready to talk to students about the advantages of attending community college.

"What we need to do is spend more time and more investment in increased counseling for careers in the K-12,” says Denson. “And I talk to many students who have had great counselors, but the counselors have not had time to spend time, to let these students know what their opportunities are."

The average annual in-state college tuition in Iowa was nearly $20,000 dollars for the last academic year. Iowa's median income is about $56,000 per year.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA