The Ottumwa Courier

November 17, 2012

Improving economy means fewer students

Community college numbers getting back to normal

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — It may be misleading to simply say community college enrollments are dropping. Or that the change is a bad thing.

An Associated Press review of data provided by the colleges shows the state’s 15 community colleges enrolled about 100,500 students this fall, down by 5,500 students from a year ago. That’s two years in a row the schools have seen numbers drop.

However, Jim Lindenmayer, president of Indian Hills Community College, wants the community to understand that statistically, two-year colleges in Iowa are doing great.

“I just finished showing the board a growth chart,” he said Friday during a board of trustees seminar. “Starting in about 2000, we began to grow anywhere from about 3-6 percent per year despite a declining population in our region.”

Skipping ahead from the year 2000 to 2012, that growth has continued at a steady pace. In between those years were some wild numbers.

“In 2009, we jumped up 20 percent,” Lindenmayer said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a 20 percent increase in enrollment.”

Enrollment rose another 8 percent in 2010. Now that people are getting back to work in 2011 and 2012, it’d be a bit misleading to simply say enrollment has dropped at community colleges, he said.

“Those [unusual statistical] spikes are now correcting to [more realistic] numbers,” Lindenmayer said.  

Several officials told the Associated Press the correction should be seen as a positive sign. During the recession, community colleges saw more 25- to 49-year-olds who were learning new skills when they were unable to find work, the AP reported.

“When the economy improves, people that were going to school go back to work,” said  M.J. Dolan, executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees.

There’s still plenty of work for the schools, educators say.

“We continue to get the message from our business and industry partners that they have job openings that require a skill set we can provide, ” said Tom Rubel, an executive dean at IHCC. “We are encouraged by the big increases we have seen [this fall] in some of our technology programs.”

Study of Health Occupations like nursing saw increases in enrollment this fall as well, according to a release from IHCC.

In fact, employers need workers in skilled positions right now.

“There are still jobs out there,” said Lindenmayer. “About 200 of them in our region.”