For the first time in more than a decade, Iowa's 15 community colleges in the last full academic year saw a collective bump in credit-seeking students — although the total number of hours they took continued to fall, sustaining a trend of students taking lighter course loads.
And despite a .4% uptick to 117,464 students enrolled from fall 2021 through summer 2022, community college credit enrollment across Iowa remains tens of thousands below its peak in 2011, when the U.S. economy was recovering from the Great Recession that began in 2007.
In a new 2022 annual Condition of Iowa's Community Colleges report, presented Thursday to the Iowa Board of Education, the state's public two-year colleges reported evidence of Iowa's shifting demographics, economic headwinds, workforce demands and pandemic implications.
"The COVID-19 pandemic precluded face-to-face instruction for many educational institutions nationwide," according to the report, noting 76% of students nationally enrolled in some type of community college distance learning class two years ago, in the 2020-2021 academic year. The percentage was 68 in Iowa that year, a marked spike over 38% the year before.
And while Iowa's community colleges in the 2021-2022 academic year saw their biggest-ever drop in online enrollment — from a record 77,015 to 69,396 — it remained "higher than pre-pandemic levels," Alison Jepsen, executive officer of the Division of Community Colleges and Workforce Preparation, told the Board of Education.
"And some of that, of course, was due to more classes being in session again and students choosing to return to in-person classes," she said.
Driving the campuses' overall enrollment increase for the full 2021-22 academic year that wrapped last summer — an uptick that continued this fall with a .6% bump — was more growth in jointly-enrolled students. Those are high school students taking one or more community college courses.
In 1999, Iowa's community colleges collectively reported an enrollment of 3,890 students ages 17 and under — or about 4% of their total. Given the vast majority who participate in joint enrollment courses do so through a contractual agreement between their school district and a community college, meaning they don't have to pay out of pocket, those numbers have surged over the years.
In the full 2021-2022 academic year, 50,082 high school students enrolled in one or more community college courses — representing a 6% increase over the prior year and amounting to 43% of the campuses' total combined enrollment.
Of those students, 941 received certificates, 580 received associate degrees and 283 received diplomas while still in high school — representing a 61% spike from the year before.
"Iowa continues to lead the nation among the percentage of high school students who enroll in community college courses," according to the report, citing National Center for Educational Statistics data from 2019 — the most recent available. It shows Iowa enrolling nearly 37% of 18-and-younger students, compared with 16% nationally.
Iowa's community colleges in the most recent academic year also reported an increase in non-credit-seeking students — something that hasn't happened since the Great Recession struck in 2008. The 151,294 students taking noncredit courses in 2021-22 amounted to a 7.3% increase from the prior year.
"That's a pretty exciting thing for us to see," Jeremy Varner, administrator of the Iowa Division of Community Colleges and Workforce Preparation, told the board — referencing dramatic losses over the years among that cohort, which had topped 300,000 in 2004.
"The majority of them are job training," Varner said. "We're talking about training (certified nursing assistants), truck drivers, welders... So seeing a rebound in that enrollment, after a couple years declines, is a really exciting thing to see."
Also noteworthy was the record minority enrollment, reaching 24.3% and representing the growing diversity of the state — as Iowa residents account for 89% of the combined community college enrollment.
"The guiding principles of the community colleges are open access, affordable education, economic growth, community support and value to the state," Executive Officer Jepsen said.
But part of the access piece is tuition, which has continued to climb as state support has waned, according to the community college report.
All 15 of Iowa's community colleges raised their prices for the current academic year, bumping up the average cost per credit hour from $199 last year to $206 this year — a 2.5% increase.
NIACC in Mason City charged $171.75 per credit hour in the 2021-2022 school year. The number climbed to $179.25 this school year, a 4.1% increase.
The enrollment at NIACC actually saw a slight decline over the past year, dropping from 2,482 last year to 2,479 this year. Concurrent students, those dual enrolled in high school and NIACC, made up more than 44% of enrollment last fall at 1,107 students.
Despite rate hikes, Iowa's community colleges have seen an annual drop in tuition and fee revenue when adjusted for 2022 dollars, according to the new report. The adjusted tuition revenue fell to $290.5 million in 2022, down 17% from $350.8 million in 2018.
Considering adjusted general aid from the state also has dropped from $237 million in 2018 to $217.8 million in 2022, the community colleges' collective revenue was down 8% from $680 million in 2018 to $626.8 million in 2022.
"The dominant funding streams are state and tuition," Administrator Varner said.
Given that the pandemic created new budgetary hardships for prospective students facing rising tuition expenses, financial aid is increasingly important in making higher education accessible, according to the report.
Yet total aid distributed by Iowa's community colleges has dropped — largely due to declining federal aid, which fell from $264.8 million in 2018 to $214 million in 2022. The colleges themselves have picked up some of that slack, but not all of it.
"Affordability concerns certainly remain," he said.
Matthew Rezab of the Globe Gazette contributed to this article.
"Surprisingly, he's really strong, even though he looks nice and cute," said resident Veterinarian Matt Kinney at San Diego Zoo.
The Mason City and Clear Lake pictorial book has over 250 photos from the 1800s through the 1930s. Order yours now at MasonCity.PictorialBook.com.
Mason City's Parks and Recreation Department is currently seeking funding for an esports gaming room to be located at the department's Green Room.
According to Brian Pauly, superintendent of recreation for the city, the concept has been in development for a number of years but gained steam late spring of last year. He estimates that the program could be ready as early as this summer.
In developing the project, staff collaborated with Ryan Anderson, director of Center Point, Iowa's own Parks and Recreation. Anderson got his start in Vinton, Iowa where he developed Iowa's first esports league. While the program started small, in the first year of operation one of his athletes earned a college scholarship and is working toward his graduation today.
Anderson expanded both the Vinton and Center Point programs into the local high schools. With colleges offering gaming development and other related fields of study, esports league play offers students an opportunity to add relevant extracurricular activities to college applications.
Anderson noted the skill, teamwork and interaction goes along with the sport, and emphasized that gamers involved in league play have the same focus and drive found in conventional sports. "The inclusivity is what makes it great. Kids [who use] a wheelchair can play right next to the football star," he said.
Total cost for the project is $13,000, of which $1,600 has already been secured. Pauly states that the city is applying for grants for the remaining funds. Those funds will pay for eight gaming stations featuring a Nintendo Switch, professional controllers and gaming chair.
The department originally considered personal computers but ultimately chose the Nintendo Switch for its large game library and ease of updates and maintenance.
The room will also offer a gaming couch, virtual reality headsets and a projector screen. Once the project is up and running, Pauly says the space will be available for rental and even drop-in play.
Mason City's prospective esports league will feature games like SmashBros, Rocket League, Mario Kart and Fortnite that offer gameplay with family-friendly themes. Pauly acknowledges that Fortnite does include guns, but the cartoon-style characters and outlandish action has won the game kudos with families.
The department's eventual goal is to offer league play for kids age 10 and up, although no one is ruling out the possibility that grown-ups could get to play, too.
A Mason City man has been arrested for allegedly robbing a North Federal Ave. Casey's General Store at gunpoint and stealing guns in Manly.
According a press release from the Mason City Police Department, 18-year-old Jesup John Allan Ward has been charged with first-degree robbery, a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
A warrant for Ward's arrest for allegedly stealing guns was served in Fort Dodge on Thursday.
The robbery at 813 N. Federal Ave. was reported to police at 9:39 p.m. on Jan. 3. No one was hurt during the incident and an undisclosed amount of money was taken according to police.
Police canvased the area, but were unable to locate the suspect.
Ward has also been charged with second-degree burglary, trafficking in stolen weapons, third-degree theft and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Those charges carry 37 years in jail if convicted on all counts.
Those charges stem from a Jan. 2 incident. Manly police were dispatched to a residence on South Broadway Street after being alerted to a burglary taking place. According to the affidavit, the next door neighbor called the resident and informed him she could see two men breaking into the residence via her Ring Doorbell camera.
The woman then allegedly went next door and chased the men away. She could only identify Ward as one of the burglars. The men allegedly tried kicking in the door, but then resorted to breaking a window with a shovel.
The only property reported as missing were two black handguns, a 9mm Springfield and a .45 caliber Springfield.
Ward is currently being held in the Worth County Jail on $18,000 bond.
An initial court appearance for the Manly burglary is scheduled for Jan. 27.