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Report: Iowa community college enrollment down

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 10:58 a.m. CDT

CEDAR RAPIDS (MCT) — Community college enrollment in Iowa this fall was the lowest it has been in five years, and the downward trend is expected to continue until numbers reach pre-recession levels.

According to the 2013 Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report, presented Thursday to the Iowa Board of Education, the state’s 15 community colleges combined for an enrollment of 94,234 in the fall. That is down 6.3 percent from 2012 and 11.6 percent from the record-breaking enrollment of 106,597 in 2010.

But this fall’s enrollment numbers are still 6.9 percent above those from fall 2008, before a national recession motivated droves of unemployed workers to go back to school. Now that the economy is improving, local community colleges expect enrollment totals will drop back down, said Kristie Fisher, vice president of student services for Kirkwood Community College.

“And we have planned for that,” Fisher said. “Since our numbers started going up, we knew they would come back down.”

Fall enrollment is down at 10 of the state’s 15 community colleges, including at Eastern Iowa’s Kirkwood, which counted 15,345 students – down 8 percent from the 16,661 enrollment last fall. Kirkwood’s current enrollment is more normal for the school, which saw numbers just above 15,000 from 2005 to 2008, according to Fisher.

Decreases in enrollment shrink tuition revenue, and Kirkwood in the fall implemented the biggest tuition increase among community colleges in the state with a 5.26 percent jump over the previous year.

“Our board has always had a philosophy of holding down rates as much as we can,” Fisher said. “We have had to increase them, but we feel good about where we are at.”

Despite the increases, Kirkwood’s resident tuition and mandatory fees remain among the lowest in the state at $140 per credit hour. Only Eastern Iowa and Des Moines Area community colleges have lower rates at $134 and $136 per credit hour, respectively.

Statewide, average community college tuition has increased $1,458 since the 2005 budget year – a 58 percent jump, according to the report. And, compared to national averages and neighboring states, Iowa’s community college tuition and fees are among the highest.

Iowa’s average tuition and fees were $1,164 above the national average in 2012, the most recent data available. And, in the region, only Minnesota and South Dakota had higher community college rates in 2011, according to the report.

Fisher said community college tuition rates in Iowa are higher, in part, because the institutions don’t get as much from local taxes as other states.

“We are always talking to our friends in Des Moines in terms of our needs to serve students better,” she said.

The state report also indicated that the profile of Iowa’s community college students is changing – with a growing percent enrolled as part-time rather than full-time. Part-time students in the fall accounted for 57 percent of the total, compared with 52 percent in 2011.

And although the typical community college student in Iowa is a white female under age 25, more minorities are enrolling, according to the report. Iowa’s community colleges have seen steady growth in its minority populations in the last five years, with an average annual growth of 14.3 percent.

The state report, according to Fisher, is helpful in keeping community colleges aligned with their institutional missions.

“It provides awareness of the changing demographics and the changing economic environment,” she said.

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©2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

MCT Information Services

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