116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College has announced plans to close two of its eight regional and county centers due to declining enrollment and a “significant decrease” in use of the locations.
The college’s 28-year-old Tippie-Mansfield Center in Belle Plaine and its 31-year-old Cedar County Center in Tipton will permanently close June 30, according to a Kirkwood news release.
The closures will reduce Kirkwood’s Eastern Iowa locations from 14 to 12 and eliminate its physical presence in Cedar County, one of the seven counties in its service area.
The announcement this week comes less than a month after Kirkwood announced plans to re-evaluate use of its 97,094-square-foot Iowa City campus, possibly downsizing and moving it, per a consultant’s recommendation.
“Since its inception, Kirkwood has always prided itself on providing quality, accessible education to the people of our seven-county area,” Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg said in a statement.
“Over the years, how we have accomplished this goal has transformed with the times,” she said. “When the need for change has come, Kirkwood has made the necessary adjustments to continue to provide excellent service and allocated college resources to ensure they are as effective as possible.
“Once again, the educational landscape in Eastern Iowa has changed, and Kirkwood needs to adjust in order to best serve our region.”
Kirkwood’s total fall 2021 enrollment of 12,607 was up 300-plus students over fall 2020, when its student count dropped 13 percent amid COVID-19.
But 2021 enrollment remains 32 percent below a peak enrollment of 18,456 in fall 2010, when the recession drove a number of students back to class.
In 2014, the Tippie-Mansfield Center in Belle Plaine reported a fall enrollment of 28 and the Cedar County Center reported 46 students that fall.
By the fall of 2019 — before COVID-19 — those enrollments had trickled down to eight in Belle Plaine and one in Cedar County.
In 2020, with the pandemic raging, both centers reported no fall enrollment — as did Kirkwood’s Benton County Center in Vinton, according to Kirkwood enrollment documents. Enrollment stayed at zero for those centers in fall 2021.
“While both centers made an impact in their communities over the years, the changing needs of their surrounding areas have led to a significant decrease in the use of the locations over time,” according to Kirkwood’s closure announcement.
“Both buildings are smaller, utilize an older model of educational delivery, offer limited options and serve a very small number of students — most of (whom) are dual enrollment learners,” meaning high school students who are taking college classes.
According to an April report on the demographics of Kirkwood’s seven-county service area — Linn, Johnson, Jones, Washington, Iowa, Benton and Cedar counties — Linn and Johnson account for most of the population, at a combined 78.6 percent.
Benton comes in third with 5.3 percent, and Cedar accounts for 3.9 percent.
In Iowa, updated projections show a 6 percent uptick in college enrollments through 2025.
But after that, enrollments in Iowa and the Midwest are expected to plummet, with the number of high school graduates projected to drop 12 percent in the Midwest and 7 percent in Iowa, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
The high schools in Benton and Cedar counties have experienced enrollment declines in recent years. Vinton-Shellsburg High School, for example, reported 488 students a decade ago and 450 in the last school year.
Benton Community Senior High School in Van Horne reported 525 students in 2011-12 and 498 last year, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
Kirkwood has notified community leaders in both affected counties about the closures, but noted “students in those parts of the college’s service area will still be able to get an education from Kirkwood.”
“In addition to dual credit, students in these communities looking to take credit classes can do so with online learning options,” according to Kirkwood officials. “High school completion programs will also still be offered to those that need them.”
The closures are expected to save under $100,000 annually, according to Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn.
Both centers have had “minimal staffing needs for many years,” according to Kirkwood, which reports its decision will affect one full-time employee who’s retiring and three part-time employees.
The Tippie-Mansfield Center, once the Belle Plaine library building, debuted in 1994, thanks to gifts from entrepreneur Henry B. Tippie and the Wesley and Irene Mansfield Foundation.
The Cedar County Center opened in 1991 and has been housed in a rental space in Tipton since 2019, after selling its previous location to Cedar County Emergency Management in 2020.
Regarding the Tipton property, Kirkwood intends to fulfill its obligations on the lease, which still has more than 12 months to run, according to Hoehn.
The Tippie building in Belle Plaine has been deemed a historic property, and Kirkwood plans to sell it back to the city for $1.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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