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Celebrating Community Colleges in Iowa and Across the U.S.

Posted on April 20, 2023 at 2:00 PM by Monica Clark

I often forget how big our community college family is across the country. We are a strong 15 in Iowa, but if we zoom out, we are part of 1,038 colleges across the country, educating 10.2 million in the United States. Comparing this to country populations, this is twice the population of Finland!

In celebration of Community College Month, I wanted to take a closer look at what our community colleges and students are doing across the country as well as in our own state, to not only see our commonalities, but to inspire us to continue providing top-notch education, training, and services to our institutions and communities.

Open-Source and Free Learning Materials

Even a decade ago when I was starting college, I remember spending at least $500 a semester on textbooks alone. This is a huge amount for anyone but for a college student? Incredibly painful. In Iowa, we have the Iowa Open Education Action team that supports affordable higher education for students in the state. They offer toolkits available online to help educators start out or manage open-source content to use for their class structures. As inflation and our changing economy affect our students’ costs, finding ways to make the financial burden more bearable is important.

At Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina, they are offering free textbooks with their new “Eagle Advantage” pilot program. Students in degree programs can pay a flat fee to rent their textbooks and in the Fall, Wave Tech will cover the cost. President Dr. Scott Ralls commented that many students don't buy textbooks because of the cost, which seriously impacts their abilities to succeed in the classroom. '"We want to give students every advantage, so we're excited to launch the program--and to offer it free of charge for Fall".'

Paving a Path to a Bright Future

Many folks who end up in prison can have successful lives post-incarceration—they just need encouragement and opportunities to set them up for a bright future. All of our colleges in some manner partner with penitentiaries and other entities working to reintroduce offenders back into society. Just last November, ten incarcerated men accepted their High School Equivalency Diplomas from Southeastern—a huge accomplishment for many. One graduate said, ‘”I got to call home and do the one thing I always wanted to do, tell my mother I got my diploma”.’

When those incarcerated leave prison without a plan or support system in place, the likelihood of recidivism increases. To combat this, women from the Southern Maine Women’s Re-entry Center joined a welding program offered through Central Maine Community College, and in March, they became the first prison residents and the first women to graduate from the welding program! DOC vocational trades instructor Corrine Bailey said, '"Doing things like this really builds them up and really gives them a future to look forward to, because they can go from here and sky's the limit."

Tech Helping Students Catapult to Success

A course offered by DMACC called TechWise is aiming to help students gain confidence in their skills and abilities and help them expand their career outcomes. Selected students are mentored by Google software engineers, supported by instructors at TalentSprint, and awarded a $5,000 stipend to help with costs. Students learn through doing rather than acing a test; the output of the program is entirely reliant on the efforts of the student. One student, Zak Buffington said, ‘”I’ve worked harder because it’s not someone else grading. It’s me. What do I think of my work? So I get to learn about how I work and what my process is, and I have a lot more freedom in that”.’

Justin Third, a student at Minneapolis College became passionate about helping others leverage technology to make the college more accessible for those with disabilities. Struggling with his own disability-related barriers and seeing how difficult it was for a former roommate to navigate the college with a wheelchair, Third decided to take action. After winning a National Science Foundation S-STEM scholarship, he will create an accessibility tool that will connect to any device with just the use of a person’s hand, helping to eliminate the issue of physical barriers for many students. 

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