Education

Minorities making up bigger ratio of Iowa community college enrollment

But total of the state's community college enrollment continues to decline

Kirkwood Community College's Linn Hall is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Fi
Kirkwood Community College's Linn Hall is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (File photo/The Gazette)

Mirroring demographic shifts in the state, minority enrollment across Iowa’s 15 community colleges swelled to a record 23 percent in the last academic year.

Although that’s well below the national community college minority student enrollment average of 39 percent, Iowa continued to best the rest of the country in the ratio of the state minority population over age 15 that’s enrolled in its community colleges.

U.S. Census figures in 2018 estimated 12.7 percent of Iowans 15 or older were non-white. Of that group, 8.1 percent were enrolled in Iowa community colleges.

That, according to a 2019 Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report released Thursday, represents the highest minority community college penetration rate in the United States.

“Iowa has led the nation in community college penetration rate of minority students for the past 10 years,” according to the report, putting Kansas second at 7.3 percent, followed by Wyoming at 6.9 percent.

Despite the rate of minority enrollment ticking up from about 22 percent in the 2017-2018 academic year, total enrollment in Iowa’s community colleges in the 2018-2019 academic year continued to slip — dipping 1.9 percent, with 128,624 students taking 1.7 million credit hours, according to the report.

“Community college enrollment in credit and noncredit programs has experienced a steady decline over the past few years” after having been driven up at the start of the last decade by the Great Recession, the report said.

“Enrollment peaked during the economic recovery in 2011,” according to the report.

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For Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, the downward trend has translated to a 4,274-student decline since 2010 — or 23 percent — to 14,182 students in fall 2019.

Its full-time student tally has been cut nearly in half over that time — dropping from 10,011 in 2010 to 5,177 in 2019. Year-over-year, Kirkwood saw a slight drop of about 140 students this fall, and spokesman Justin Hoehn said enrollment levels are “where we expected them to be.”

“Because of this, the college has planned its budget accordingly to compensate for fewer students,” he said.

Kirkwood, like every other community college in Iowa, increased its tuition this fall — with Kirkwood’s in-state students paying $7 more per credit hour and its out-of-state students paying $14 more per credit hour.

Kirkwood’s online enrollment is up — as it is for the state’s community college collective.

Where online enrollment fell slightly last year to 60,689 unduplicated students, it rebounded this fall with a 3.4 percent jump to a record high 62,731 students.

“Since 2007, online credit enrollment has grown over 92 percent,” according to the new report.

Joint enrollment — which allows high school students to earn college credit — similarly has been surging in recent years, reaching a record of 51,001 high school students enrolled in one or more community college courses during the 2017-2018 academic year.

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This year’s joint enrollment appeared to finally level off — dipping .8 percent to 50,587.

But joint enrollment demographics lack the diversity seen in the overall enrollment.

In the last academic year, of the 91 percent of joint enrollees who reported an ethnicity, 17 percent had a minority background — below the 23 percent of total minority community college enrollment in Iowa.

Of the state’s minority high school students jointly enrolled to receive college credit, Hispanic students accounted for nearly 48 percent, followed by black students at 19 percent and Asian students at 18 percent, according to the report.

Projections for the state show white-only youth totals decreasing.

That’s made recruiting minority students into joint-enrollment programs a priority for community colleges.

“It is a goal of Kirkwood to increase minority enrollment,” Hoehn said. “We have worked with high schools to focus some recruitment efforts toward reaching diverse populations.”

Among its top priorities as a whole, Kirkwood aims to remain relevant to the state and regional needs — providing “accessible, quality education and training to those we serve.”

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

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