The Ottumwa Courier

December 16, 2013

Learning never ends

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Not all training is meant to boost your salary. Some education will simply boost your quality of life.

Take the Indian Hills Community College class in Sign Language, First Aid for Pets, Conversational Spanish or Introduction to Computers; why not take a class on how to winterize your RV or how to use an iPad?

“Not everyone is looking for a biology class,” said Steve Allison, part of the Customized Learning Department at Indian Hills.

There are people who are past the point in their lives where they are trying to get another degree or improve their job performance, he added.

Marlene Sprouse, the college president, said the school wants to offer education to everyone, not just those seeking a degree.

“It has a lot to do with being a ‘community’ college, and the idea that our purpose is to serve the whole community,” she said. “A lot of what we teach in general interest classes [revolves around] quality of life.”

“For a certain percentage of people in the community, that’s their connection to the college,” said Allison. “They’re looking for some fun things to learn, [perhaps] a hobby.”

Besides students getting an education at The Hills, the school has a reputation for supporting workforce improvement and educational development in the region.

“But we do more than that,” Sprouse said. “These are some of the fun things.”

Iowa Code has certain requirements community colleges must adhere to.

“It does say that we are chartered to offer ‘community services,’” said Sprouse.

But the code doesn’t demand a quilt making class at every school. So who gets to pick these fun class offerings?

First, a few are actually required by the state, especially those that may be court ordered: driver safety classes for motorists who have been cited too often, or anger management classes for individuals mandated by a judge to attend such a course.

Next are those based on interest expressed by community members; Sprouse said if enough people want to learn about a subject, like wine appreciation, Indian Hills will find an instructor and make the class happen. Or an instructor finds Allison or fellow educator Peggy Thie, tells them of their idea for a class, and it gets into the catalog.

There are also instances where college leadership feels a class could be of value, so they’ll put it in the catalog and see what happens. That’s why there can be a few class descriptions stating if too few people sign up, the class will not be held.

Which means that some classes are more popular than others. Technology is near the top right now, Sprouse said. But, Allison added, that doesn’t mean someone’s going to become a computer programmer.

“There are those of us who become comfortable only with what we know [so to help people branch out], we’ve had classes on how to use a Smartphone or an iPad.”

Cooking, genealogy and line dancing have had good responses, as had obedience class for dogs.

“I believe that our purpose is to offer learning of any kind as close to people as we can,” said Sprouse. “We raise the education level of everyone we come in contact with, even if it’s just to improve learning as a human being.”

To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark