OTTUMWA — In the face of changes in the needs of employers and the attitudes of prospective students and their parents, community colleges are shifting their focus and marketing strategies. No longer a stopping point on the way to a four-year school, community colleges are becoming as much a destination for students as are universities.
“Community colleges have become places where students want to go and live, and they are not looked at as just commuter colleges anymore,” explained Marlene Sprouse, president of Indian Hills Community College. Students are coming from farther away because of specific program availability rather than driving in for the day because the college is close to home. Some come for athletics, some for international diversity and some for specific academic programs, Sprouse said.
“We’re seeing more that parents and students are looking carefully at all their options,” Sprouse said, “and they’re choosing community college as somewhere to go other than as a default.” High school enrollment is declining in the 10-county area served by IHCC, and “if we rely on that, enrollment at IHCC will decline,” said Sprouse.
The new term at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa began Aug. 29. Officials anticipate that the number of credit hours will be down about 4 percent from last year, but the head count is up from last year at 4,407 people. Final numbers will not be available until later this week.
“It looks like we actually have more full-time students,” said Sprouse, “which is a good thing.”
Credit hours will be affected by the number of part-time students and by high school students who are taking college credit concurrently with high school classes. “It affects how we schedule classes and load faculty,” Sprouse said. “It affects our budget because students pay by credit hours.” Head count tells the number of people benefitting from the college
Residence halls are full, which is not unusual, but this year it’s not just that all rooms are occupied, but all beds are occupied as well. “We were scrambling to make sure that we have enough room for people,” said Sprouse. This reflects the trend of students from distances choosing community colleges rather than four-year schools.
A group of students from the African nation of Cameroon have enrolled at IHCC this year, Sprouse said. Foreigners will come to the U.S. and look for schools that offer programs they are interested in. The students from Cameroon were looking for health programs.
“We didn’t go recruiting that group from Cameroon,” said Sprouse, but “we have intentionally, for the last year, recruited internationally. We like the diversity.” Families want their children to come to the U.S. to learn, Sprouse said. They like the small colleges, the small towns and safe communities.
IHCC had 168 international students enrolled last year, Sprouse said, and around 180 today, “so we’re getting close to that 200 mark, which is what we want.”
About 60 percent of IHCC students are career and technical students, a larger percentage of student population than at any other college in the state. Indian Hills has about 75 technical programs from which to choose.
This is the first term for the dental hygiene program, Sprouse said. Sixteen students are enrolled for the inaugural term. “That’s not bad for a first year,” Sprouse said. “That will grow.”
Sprouse said that decisions to add career and technical programs are based on work force need, sometimes locally and sometimes in a broader area. The college listens to advisors, prospective students and employers to determine what programs might best meet the needs of the students and employers. Officials study how much need there is and what the prospect is for attracting students to the new program. “Dental hygiene is one that we’ve been studying for a long time,” said Sprouse.
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