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Who's coming to Community Colleges?

Posted on 09/02/2022 at 10:35 AM by Monica Clark

Who's Coming to College

The end of the Fall 2021 semester is fast approaching, which is a good time to reflect on enrollment and think about who’s coming to Iowa’s Community Colleges (and who isn’t).

Iowa’s Community College enrollment typically cycles with the economy. When times are tough and jobs are scarce, more people come to College to increase their skills and competitiveness. We are, however, in unprecedented times. The recent downturn quickly recovered, and we are now seeing record low unemployment and a significant workforce shortage. While there is still a significant skills gap as well, for the time being, many people can find a job without further education, so we are still seeing declines.

Beating National Averages

Declines in higher education enrollment are happening around the country as people continue to face uncertainty due to the pandemic and the workforce environment remains competitive. In most cases, Iowa has bucked the trend, beating out national averages. Total enrollment dropped 1.6 percent, the enrollment in part-time students decreased 1.2 percent, and the enrollment in full-time students declined 2.3 percent. Nationwide, the same categories decreased by 5.6 percent, 2.8 percent, and 9.8 percent. Joint enrollment increased 3.4 percent. Nationally, joint enrollment decreased 0.2 percent. Additionally, while enrollment declined overall, it rose at nine Colleges.

A graph showing enrollment numbers in Iowa vs National enrollment at community colleges.

Complicated Story for Underserved Students

A big part of continued success comes in serving underserved and non-traditional students. In this area, there are both positive and negative trends at play. Compared to last fall, the proportion of minorities increased 0.7 percent to a record high of 23.8 percent. Nationally, minorities decreased 4.1 percent. The enrollment of nontraditional College-age students decreased 6.0 percent, and the enrollment of traditional-age students decreased by less than one percent. The proportion of economically disadvantaged students decreased from 23.3 percent to 20.4 percent. More nontraditional students choose to enroll part-time and the increase in that area continues with part-time students now accounting for 64.8 percent of overall enrollment while in 1970 they account for only 10 percent.

Predicting the Future

If recent years have taught us anything, it’s that predicting the future is a dangerous game. However, recent scientific projections by the Iowa Department of Education show that things could be looking up for enrollment in Fall 2022. Using time series methods, they estimate an increase of as much as 1.8 percent. While small, this increase would be a strong sign given the tide of demographic change sweeping the state and country. Iowa’s Community Colleges will continue to work to boost enrollment with programs like College and Career Transition Counselors, increased outreach to working adults, and ongoing partnerships with business and industry.

Stories of Our Students

While it’s easy to look at the overall picture of our enrollment numbers and focus on the bad, it’s important to also look at the good—to the individual students for whom we are impacting in large ways.

  • For many reasons, some students are unable to finish and receive their high school diplomas. Our Community Colleges not only provide ways in which to complete a high school equivalency, but also provide opportunities to improve their futures. Stephanie Rodriguez graduated from Iowa Valley with not only her high school equivalency but continued on to get her LPN, hoping to go back soon to get her RN.
  • We not only serve our students from our local communities but students from countries around the world. International students like Moses from Guyana, who graduated from Muscatine Community College with an Associate of Arts degree, hopes he can bring the technology skills he learned while studying back to his home country.
  • Eugene Yeboah, alumnus of Northwest Iowa Community College, took a very non-traditional path in training to become a nurse. After graduating high school in Ghana, he decided he wanted to study in the U.S. Starting out at Wartburg to study Business, he found that was not his calling, and transferred to NCC, where he graduated with his degree in Nursing. He hopes to continue with his studies to become an RN and work towards a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
  • The road to success is much harder for some. April White struggled with drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and homelessness before she found her way to Northeast Iowa Community College, completed her high school equivalency diploma, and graduated with her associate’s degree. “Northeast Iowa Community College truly helped me to find myself. The College has a huge place in my heart. It was like home, my support network when I needed one and, for the first time, the place where I experienced such positive energy every day,” said White.
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