116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kirkwood Community College, a 55-year-old Cedar Rapids-based higher education fixture that’s grown to a sprawling network of 14 campuses in seven Iowa counties, for the first time is conducting a comprehensive review of its Iowa City campus to ensure it is meeting the needs of the community in which it sits.
As part of that study, Kirkwood in November began working with WSP Global — a New York strategic planning company — to assess the 6.5-acre site in southeast Iowa City. The work involved an on-site visit and focus groups in February with faculty and staff, students, Iowa City-area employers, government representatives and economic development leaders.
In March, Kirkwood distributed a survey to the Iowa City community aimed at better understanding respondents’ perceptions of the Iowa City campus, how it compares with four-year universities and how essential that campus is to the community.
The goal is to ensure the college — with its Iowa City site’s three buildings spanning 75,000 square feet served by 50 faculty and staff — is meeting the needs of the area, given changes underway across higher education.
“Across the country, liberal arts is on a bit of a decline,” Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg told the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club at a recent meeting. “That’s not a Kirkwood problem or an Iowa problem. It’s nationwide. And that’s what we offer at the Iowa City campus.
“And so we’ve had consultants come in to take a look and find out what are the needs in Iowa City,” Sundberg said. “What should we be providing in order to meet the needs in Iowa City?”
Of Kirkwood’s total enrollment of 12,280 in fall 2020, its Iowa City campus accounted for about 11 percent at 1,335. That was down from fall 2019, when Kirkwood’s Iowa City enrollment of 2,724 made up about 19 percent of its 14,182 total enrollment, according to Kirkwood and the Iowa Department of Education statistics.
Although students can take prerequisite courses for many applied science programs at the Kirkwood Iowa City location, they can fully complete Liberal Arts Associate of Arts, Liberal Arts Associate of Science and Business Administration Associate of Applied Science degrees.
The survey started by asking respondents to give both Kirkwood and then its Iowa City campus an A-F letter grade — like students receive in school. It asked whether they considered Kirkwood better than, equal to or worse than four-year universities and whether they based that assessment on tuition costs, courses offered, location, or quality of education. For employers, the survey asked how they would evaluate applicants who graduated from Kirkwood compared with those with university degrees.
And it asked respondents to agree or disagree with statements like:
- “It is essential that the Iowa City area has a high-quality community college as a place for adults to be trained or retained”;
- “We get excellent value from what we pay to support the Iowa City Kirkwood campus”;
- “The Iowa City Kirkwood campus does not serve the needs of people like me and my family”;
- “Having an excellent community college is important for success in economic development in the Iowa City/Coralville metro area.”
The survey asked what types of courses respondents might be likely to take — including biotechnology, information technology, nursing and health care; engineering; culinary arts; cybersecurity; financial services; or liberal arts classes that could transfer to a four-year institution toward a bachelor’s degree.
The overall assessment will include a look at transit use to the Iowa City campus, according to Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn, who said a final report is expected soon.
Kirkwood, which opened in 1967 with a total enrollment of 1,183, watched its enrollment steadily climb until peaking at 18,456 in 2010 on the heels of the recession. Since that time, total enrollment has been falling — dropping into the 14,000-range until the pandemic dropped it further to 12,280 in fall 2020.
That number ticked up to 12,607 in fall 2021, although demographic shifts across Iowa and the Midwest have all higher education institutions looking for efficiencies and recruitment advantages.
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