Iowa’s community colleges stand ready to help

Iowa Central Community College supports the general goals and recommendations of the Future Ready Alliance Task Force that Gov. Kim Reynolds and Dan Houston, chairman chief executive officer of Principal Financial Group co-chaired. In addition, we stress that the Legislature needs to maintain our current funding for our general state aid and existing workforce programs, while leveraging those programs and funding to support the Future Ready Iowa recommendations.

As the announcement of their final report stated, the Alliance’s first recommendation is to establish the Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship and Future Ready Iowa Grant Program. The scholarship will bridge the financial divide with money for Iowans seeking up to an associate degree at Iowa colleges and universities leading to high-demand jobs. The Future Ready Iowa Grant is for Iowans seeking a bachelor’s degree who already have earned more than half the credits in a major leading to a high-demand job.

The Alliance’s third recommendation is to expand high-quality work-based learning experiences in high-demand careers to all students, but particularly those who are underserved. This is an opportunity for employers to increase pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship and internship programs and make sure there is equity in access, both in urban and rural areas. It is also an opportunity to expand the STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) program started by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. Students explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers through hands-on, real-world projects designed by industry professionals and educators, with amazing opportunities to connect with their communities.

The Alliance’s fourth recommendation is to identify early academic approaches that effectively prepare all students for a changing world. This could include expanding after-school programs for children.

The Alliance’s fifth recommendation is to develop a grassroots strategy to engage the business community, regional workforce boards, STEM regions and other current and future regional collaborations and training programs. This will allow for the mapping of existing regional and local workforce partnerships and filling any gaps existing within a community or region.

To help meet the goals of Future Ready Iowa, Iowa’s community colleges are asking the governor and Legislature to help us reach our 2018 legislative priorities, which are:

• Provide a modest increase in our state general aid by $4 million,

• Maintain our current funding for the Iowa Skilled Worker and Job creation fund at $40.3 million, and the local control that now exists by our locally elected board of directors as to how that money is invested,

• Maintain our existing job new job training programs that have helped Iowa Central support such companies as Elanco, Tyson, Prestage Farms, Cargill, CJ Bio America, and many others and

• Maintain our incumbent (existing) worker training funding at $3 million.

As we have stressed to our legislators, it is not that Iowa is not spending enough money on education, but how can we better allocate that funding? As you can see from the accompanying chart below, Iowa’s Community Colleges are funded at drastically lower levels per student by the state of Iowa than the other education entities in the state.

I believe together we can continue to look at ways to better use our K-16 education funding from our local, state and federal sources, while delivering the education and training our students and workers deserve, and the marketplace demands.

Jim Kersten is vice president of external affairs and government relations at Iowa Central Community College.