- Transcript (RTF)
Iowa has 15 community colleges serving all 99 of the state's counties. The schools educate thousands every year offering training in nearly every field imaginable. But while community colleges play important roles as vocational schools training workers for the 20th century workforce, 21st century workforce, they are also launching pads for higher education. A 2002 study by Iowa State University found that 67% of Iowa community college graduates went on to a four year school within three years of graduation.
In this classroom at Eastern Iowa Community College in Muscatine, Veronica Martinez and Keith Ketcham are both in their second year at the school.
Keith Ketcham, Muscatine CC Student: “I had the grades to go to anywhere that I wanted to. I could show you: my degree is the same degree as anybody else that goes for it, and I'll be able to talk a lot more two years after I get my grades from UNI. I obviously believe that I will do well, but I don't believe that a community college is any less of an education. It's just higher level education at a lower cost.”
Veronica Martinez, Muscatine CC Student: “I mainly just try to focus on studying, going to school. The reason I chose a community college was because of the low cost. That is an important thing to me, and I think it's important for a lot of other people and students that want to come here.”
This fall, a record 1,532 students are at the Muscatine Community College. Statewide enrollment increased 2 percent from a year ago to 87-thousand students.
The increase may be due in part to the school's recognition that the student body is much more diverse than traditional institutions of higher learning. To that end, the schools provide assistance not typically found at universities. For example, Muscatine’s nursing department has an advisor to help students with non-academic issues from childcare to housing concerns.
Ellie Sweet, Nursing Instructor: “We had a student come in one day: I got kicked out of my housing last night. I have two kids, I don't know where to live and I've got clinical in a day or two. So that person helped them to find housing or to find childcare. Financially, we had a student that came in as the first graduate from college ever. She came in and said she had to drop out, four weeks before she's done with the program. So Jenny helped her find some financial resources to get her through to where she could graduate.
Some community colleges offer the chance at a career change or the opportunity to change a blue collar to a white one. Iowa community college officials claim nearly 90 percent of their graduates stay in the state.
Ellie Sweet, Nursing Instructor: “They have a commitment to their community, and I think that is what we provide. We provide that workforce for our community. We don't want them going to Florida. We don't want them going to New York. We want them staying here. We want them to feel that they are truly important to this community.
Carol Cunningham, Business Instructor: “I always look at it that we are preparing people to be employees in this community. So we work very closely with businesses in our community to see: what are your needs? What do you expect your employees to be able to do? And then our curriculum reflects that.”
Some of the success of community colleges comes from the ability to adjust quickly to the vocational needs of area employers. Economic development officials are staunch advocates of the schools, frequently utilizing Iowa’s system to recruit new business and industry to the state.
For example: Muscatine’s agriculture department provides an educated workforce for nearby seed and farm chemical companies and processing plants.
Marshall McDonald, Agricuture Department: “After two years they know what they're expected to do, and they know how to perform that task in just a short two year period of time. So it makes them very employable, and they're filling gaps that are out there. We need to get people in these jobs, and we're a source that employers can come to fill that gap.”
The schools help expand local economies. They also help elevate the fortunes of their graduates. Some students are the first in their families to attend college. Because of cost, family commitments and responsibilities community college is their only option.
Ellie Sweet: “Without the community college, you will have students who will never get an education.”
Many of Jeff Kaufmann’s students have transferred to four year colleges and universities. One has even gone to Harvard. As a Government and history teacher at Muscatine Community, he offers the students real-life experience as a state legislator. In the Iowa House, he’s an advocate for the schools, commending the role community colleges play in building better citizens.
Jeff Kaufmann: “We are oftentimes the institution of last chance. We are the institution. I have seen moms come in here that have been single moms with absolutely no way out, and I've seen them come in here with some help from the state, help from the federal government, and I've seen them shine. I've seen them find that dream, find that niche. I've seen the graduates from here go on to four year school, and they not only turn into a terrific parent and a terrific citizen, but a terrific taxpayer.”