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Higher education

Iowa college readiness report shows chances, hurdles in reaching 2025 goal

'That shouldn't be such a stretch'

The Enrollment Services Center on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Enrollment Services Center on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

More than 71 percent of Iowa high schoolers who graduated in 2010 enrolled in some form of college or workforce training within a year, according to a new and first-of-its-kind State of Iowa Postsecondary Readiness Report.

That puts Iowa ahead of the national average of 67.1 percent of graduates in college or training a year after high school. And the state’s new report also shows Iowa above average in its overall enrollment of male, female, and white students.

That, according some of the state’s academic experts, shows Iowa could meet Gov. Terry Branstad’s goal of having 70 percent of the state’s workforce with some form of postsecondary education or training by 2025.

Branstad set that goal based on research showing 68 percent of careers in Iowa will require education or training beyond high school by 2025. In 2014, about 60 percent of Iowans over age 25 had completed education or training post-high school.

“The governor’s goal is really bold,” said Jeffrey Weld, executive director for the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and associate professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa.

Weld long has pushed for the state’s academic institutions to compile their data and make it available so administrators and advocates can make informed decisions about how to improve educational attainment across Iowa.

“The governor’s STEM council is a data hound,” he said. “We have been pestering everybody who sits on data to package it and get it out there and let us and all the other stakeholder groups mine it.”

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The resulting report and corresponding interactive website, according to Weld, is “beautiful” in its ability to function as a “one-stop shop” for educators, parents, and everyday Iowans. And he thinks initial findings from the report, which will be updated annually, are encouraging.

“If 70-some percent of young Iowans are already tapping into postsecondary, which is what the data suggests, then that shouldn’t be such a stretch,” he said. “All we need to address then, and focus in on, is to persist.”

Specifically, Weld said, the report highlights the need to make sure students who enroll in college — or some other form of workforce training — finish it.

“We get a lot of kids starting, but not everybody’s finishing,” he said. “So I think that’s a wonderful metric, and a great opportunity to home in on.”

Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled the new report, its findings, and the associated interactive website earlier this week. In addition to student enrollment in college and career training, the new report provides data on students who take postsecondary remedial courses along with postsecondary retention and completion rates.

The website provides interactive data for every public high school in the state, and it supports the governor’s Future Ready Iowa initiative, which aims to ensure Iowans have career opportunities and employers have a skilled workforce.

The Postsecondary Readiness Report is a collaboration between the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Workforce Development, and the Board of Regents.

But not all of the report’s initial findings are positive. Iowa fell below national averages in its percent of black, Hispanic, and Asian students enrolling in college or other workforce training after high school.

That could present a hurdle in reaching the governor’s 2025 goal, as those are the populations expected to swell in Iowa over the next decade, according to a recent Condition of Higher Education in Iowa report.

According to that report, from the 2013-14 school year to 2023-24, the percent of Iowa public high school graduates is projected to increase 4 percent for white students, 42 percent for Asian students, 60 percent for black students, and 83 percent for Hispanic students.

At the same time, that report — like the state’s new college readiness report — shows “significant gaps” in the educational attainment of Iowa’s minority populations. Right now, 56 percent of black and 36 percent of Hispanic Iowans over age 25 have finished some form of education or training beyond high school, according to the Condition of Higher Education report.

Looking deeper, just 12 percent of black and 9 percent of Hispanic Iowans have bachelor’s degrees as their highest degree attained.

“We have a talent pipeline dearth in terms of diversity,” Weld said. “More young women, more kids of ethnic and racial diversity need to be brought into the STEM pipeline.”

But, from his view, the data in the new reports has made academics aware of an opportunity.

“I see it as a reinforcer, a reminder, of the work that we have to do for the future of this state — economically speaking,” he said. “We have to double down on expanding pathways of opportunity for underrepresented populations.”

That, Weld said, should look like a re-examination of curriculum, enrollment practices, outreach efforts, and recruitment strategies. Diana Gonzalez, chief academic officer for the Board of Regents who’s been involved in the collaborative project since its inception five or six years ago, said she believes the new report will play a key role in attaining the governor’s goal.

“I think all of us are committed to the governor’s goal, and we know that we’ve got to approach it from a lot of different components — this is one of them,” she said.

Key findings from the report:

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71.1 percent of Iowa high schooler graduates enrolled in college or training programs within a year of graduation.

18.9 percent of those students took a remedial math class within a year of high school graduation.

9.2 percent of those students took a remedial English class within a year of high school graduation.

90.1 percent of college-bound students enroll within the first year, and 95.2 percent within two years of high school graduation.

Rates of postsecondary enrollment differ greatly depending on family income, race or ethnicity, first-language spoken, and special education status.

View the report here.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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