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Iowans' Ideas: Seven steps in a learning journey

Investment in education should be lifelong

Jun 17, 2019 at 3:05 pm
    President of Northeast Iowa Community College Liang Chee Wee (left) participates in a panel during the 2017 Iowa Ideas Conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in downtown Cedar Rapids in September. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

    The Chinese have a saying that translates to “it takes 10 years to shape a tree, but 100 years to shape a person.” It means we are all a work in progress, and our learning journey should have no end. For the benefit of our state, what are some ways to support and strengthen the learning journey for personal, professional and societal good?

    1. Support preschool programs

    In May 2017, researchers who study early childhood education produced “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects,” with a clear message — children who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than children who don’t. In addition, “while all children benefit from preschool, poor and disadvantaged kids often make the most gains.”

    2. Strengthen third-grade reading proficiency

    The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque has made reading proficiency one of its strategic initiatives because “studies show that 74 percent of students who fall behind in reading proficiency at the end of third grade do not graduate from high school, and that children from low-income households are disproportionately affected.” A majority of students who struggle with reading in third grade never catch up.

    3. Narrow post-secondary readiness gap

    The latest data show that Iowa has a nation-leading 91.3 percent high school graduation rate. According to the most recent Iowa Postsecondary Readiness Report, about 71 percent of Iowa high school graduates go on to college or career training programs.

    However, according to a recent three-year state average, 23 percent of those students — about one in four — take remedial math or English courses. Iowa Department of Education has formed the Development Education Working Group to address this issue.

    4. Increase work-based learning

    Work-based learning helps students connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world. Examples include job shadowing, field trips, internships and apprenticeships.

    This past February, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the 15 Iowa community colleges signed the Work-based Opportunity Regional Referral Consortium Agreement to increase the number of work-based learning initiatives between ABI member companies and their local community colleges.

    5. Address challenges facing adult learners

    One challenge faced by many adult learners is the child care “cliff effect.” Without child care, many adults are not able to pursue education or employment. The problem is that often a small increase in income results in loss of benefits before sufficient income can replace that support, resulting in families being worse off financially.

    Central Iowa Works’ Skills2Compete policy agenda has included “eliminate the child care ‘cliff effect’ and increase access to quality and affordable child care assistance” as a priority.

    6. Break the incarceration cycle

    After his incarceration, Isaiah Brown was motivated to make a life change to help his single mom pay the bills and to be a role model for his younger brother. Northeast Iowa Community College’s Outreach Success Coach Samaria Neely encouraged Isaiah to enter the College’s Second Chance program where former inmates receive skills and education to re-enter the workforce.

    Brown enrolled in the NICC Welding Certificate Program in August 2017 and, after four months of training, he graduated and was hired at Industrial Precision Welding.

    According to the Iowa Department of Corrections, it costs about $34,000 each year to house an inmate. Therefore, the department has embraced registered apprenticeships.

    “Currently 334 inmates are enrolled in various registered apprenticeships ranging from plumbing, welding, cooking, electrician (training) and many more,” the department said.

    7. Embrace the earn-and-learn model

    The unemployment rate in Iowa is around 3 percent. Businesses are competing for skilled workers.

    In addition to hiring new workers, sponsoring current employees for education and training at a local community college is a value-added option. The employee continues to add value to the company, support his or her family and learn new skills for the next higher-paying position.

    One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ key priorities is Future Ready Iowa. The goal is for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Future Ready Iowa aims to build Iowa’s talent pipeline not just for today but to establish a strong foundation for Iowa’s future.

    Benjamin Franklin wrote, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Our investment should be lifelong, and the learning journey must be supported and strengthened for the good of all.

    -- Dr. Liang Chee Wee is president of Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar.


    About this story: Iowans’ Ideas is a new guest opinion series, speaking to the key issues of today and future for the state, as seen by one Iowan.

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