Iowa community college enrollment hits all-time high


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Heather Lamb, a working mother, said she found Kirkwood's Community College's class schedule more accommodating than other educational options.

The 33-year-old started attending Kirkwood in August 2005.

"I probably would have been completely lost if I had started [at the University of Iowa] as a freshman," Lamb said.

Lamb didn't attend college after high school, but she decided to go back to school after working in the same telemarketing position for nine years. She transferred to the UI with an associate's degree in August 2008.

Lamb's path is becoming more common — Iowa community colleges have seen an increase in the number of students in recent years.

And community-college enrollment in Iowa hit an all-time high this year, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

A recent report shows a total of 106,597 students are enrolled in Iowa's 15 community colleges, up nearly 5 percent over 2009.

Steve Carpenter, Kirkwood's public-information director, said the college's enrollment has increased because of both nontraditional students over 25 and dual-enrolled high-schoolers.

According to the report, nearly 28,000 high-school students are enrolled for credit at a community college.

"Having a better educated populace is a huge benefit to the state," said state Board of Regents member Robert Downer. "And I am certainly pleased with what we've seen in enrollments at all levels."

Carpenter said the economy has also affected enrollment at Kirkwood — which increased 17 percent in 2009 and a further 3 percent in 2010 to reach more than 18,000 students.

"Just the fact that with economic changes with employment situations, people felt the need to update their training or get new jobs," Carpenter said.

Todd Jones, the director of marketing at Des Moines Area Community College, said 2010 enrollment at the college increased about 10 percent over the previous year.

The Des Moines school was one of four listed in the report whose enrollment increased more than 10 percent.

Affordability, Jones said, was the one of the top reasons students chose community colleges over four-year institutions.

"I think the economy has an impact," he said. "I think a lot of traditional students and parents who would look at a four-year institution are looking at a community college."

Jones said the increased number of transfer agreements with four-year universities are creating a "seamless transition" from community colleges to four-year universities.

Downer said universities have made progress in recent years in easing credit transfers for community-college students.

"They've done a good job in looking at the content of the community-college classes and seeing how they dovetail with the courses in universities," he said.

The report presented to the Department of Education also said community-college enrollment is expected to decline nearly 10 percent in 2011, but such schools as the Des Moines college aren't considering the lowered estimate in their future plans.

"We don't know that to be true, and that's not the premise we're acting on," Jones said.

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