Guest Editorial

Posted October 31, 2012 at 11:02 am

Community colleges offer more than meets the eye

By Mick Starcevich, President, Kirkwood Community College

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how deeply the state needs middle skill workers. According to a recent study by Iowa Workforce Development, 66 percent of Iowa’s unemployed or underemployed have no recognized educational credentials past high school.

The same study reports roughly 50 percent of Iowa’s available jobs are considered “middle skill” – meaning they require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree.

What people must understand is “middle skill” does NOT equate to low wages. Often, these are higher earning careers. In fact, some of the fastest growing “middle skill” careers include computer and mathematical occupations, nurses, dental assistants, medical assistants, CNC machinists and compliance officers.

Obviously, a short-term educational commitment can have a huge pay-off down the road. Community colleges are a low cost educational choice for those seeking associate degrees, certification, job training or even a refresher or quick upgrade and not a full degree.

Kirkwood Community College commissioned a study of recent graduates and compiled some pretty strong evidence to back up these claims.

Of those polled: 97 percent were satisfied with their Kirkwood education.

92 percent believed their time at Kirkwood prepared them well for their careers.

90 percent are currently employed.

95 percent live or work in Iowa.

We keep our finger on the pulse of the region’s employment outlook by maintaining regional advisory boards comprised of industry partners – the very people who quite possibly could employ our graduates help us identify new programs, shape our curriculum and keep our educational programs up-to-date with industry trends.

Kirkwood’s tuition is approximately half the Iowa Regents’ universities. Plus, due to an active Foundation focused on providing student support, Kirkwood is able to award students more than $2.3 million in scholarships annually. That, on top of state and federal financial aid programs, puts resume-building credentials within reach for a greater percentage of the local population.

Additionally, two new student financial assistance programs were approved by the Iowa legislature this year, supporting the attainment of middle-skills credentials. The first is a $2 million appropriation to support the GAP tuition assistance program. It provides need-based tuition assistance to individuals enrolling in short term, non-credit skill certificate programs aligned with job opportunities in the corridor. Kirkwood has successfully piloted this program for the past five years.

Second, the legislature provided $5 million in funding for a new Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant Program focused on skill shortage areas for our traditional credit career and technical education degree programs. Kirkwood has also helped support and promote the National Career Readiness Certification (NCRC) for a number of years. The NCRC rates general workforce skills and helps employers judge the skill sets of job seekers. Over 180 employers in the region support this credential to bring even more Iowans opportunities to earn those “middle skills” jobs.

Student success is Kirkwood’s institutional priority now and in the future. As part of our learner success initiative, we’re focusing on the total student success story, from application to graduation and beyond. This commitment is showing itself in our workforce and will continue to, as we fill the local employment gap.