IN A HEARTBEAT
By RICK MORAIN
For The Jefferson Herald
Iowa Central Community College stands ready to pump millions of dollars and loads of enthusiasm into the career academy that’s proposed to be built in the Greene County Community School District.
The idea, presented by four community residents to the Greene County school board at its October meeting, calls for a regional center to be furnished and staffed by ICCC.
The high-tech academy would be located adjacent to a new high school building on U.S. Highway 30 at the north edge of Jefferson.
In an interview with The Jefferson Herald last week, Iowa Central president Dan Kinney left no doubt: “I am so impressed at what your community is doing. It’s amazing what initiative you are taking. We would provide education like this in a heartbeat.”
Kinney was particularly struck by the proactive proposal from a quartet of local citizens — Chris Deal, Sid Jones, Doug McDermott and Dan Benitz.
“I’m excited to see the community approach us,” he said. “Usually it’s the other way around. The consortium idea is exciting.”
The career academy idea envisions a curriculum for interested high school juniors and seniors from eight school districts in and surrounding Greene County that would dovetail with the specialty staffing needs of area employers, including manufacturers.
Course content could include software development, advanced manufacturing such as welding and machining, agricultural technology, industrial sewing, hospitality and restaurant management, and health care, among other curriculum threads.
Kinney said there are now between 10 and 15 such regional centers operating in the state of Iowa, some in cities but others in smaller communities such as Pella and Eagle Grove.
The Eagle Grove center, served by Iowa Central, is generously supported by businesses in that area, Kinney said.
“They are excited to have the academy there,” he said.
As with the other regional centers across Iowa, it ties into its region’s business needs.
There are currently 68 students who take at least some classes at the Eagle Grove center. Some of its instructors are from Iowa Central’s Fort Dodge campus, some are Eagle Grove High School teachers, and some are local specialists who serve as adjunct instructors.
A full-time manager would be on site at the Greene County regional center from the start, Kinney said. Eventually, Iowa Central would want to employ some full-time staff members at the center, he added.
Iowa Central would provide intermediary staff members to serve as liaisons between the high schools and the college, Kinney explained. They would help expose students and businesses to each other, matching students, employers and Iowa Central itself.
Iowa Central is as much a business entity as it is an educational one, Kinney said. It serves almost as a translator for introducing students to real-world positions.
Iowa Central has about $4 million invested into the Eagle Grove Regional Center, Kinney said.
Technical education is the most expensive curriculum of all, Kinney pointed out, and all the equipment at the center would be provided and paid for by Iowa Central. Examples would include robotics and 3-D printers, among other high-tech instruments.
Regional technical instruction centers are a must for today’s Iowa, Kinney said, in part for economy of scale.
“State funding won’t get any better in the years to come,” he predicted.
A consortium of regional school districts is the most cost-effective way to provide state-of-the-art technical education.
Rural America is starting to see the importance of retaining young people in its communities, Kinney said. Communities need to gear themselves to help local employers attract technically skilled employees, and a regional academy fits perfectly into that matrix.
Kinney explained that the regional center would provide advanced technical training at three levels.
First, interested students would receive basic training for which they would receive a certificate, showing they’re ready for more training from their employer.
Second, some students would get a certain number of technical training hours at the regional academy to prepare them for further tech education at Iowa Central’s campus.
And third, students with enough training hours would be ready to enroll into an engineering program at a college or university like Iowa State.
On a one-year track at the regional center, a student could earn from 14 to 18 college credits, the equivalent of a semester of college work. In two years, he or she could accumulate 28 to 36 college credits, worth a year of college credit.
On average, the regional center could save a student $6,000 in college costs, Kinney said.
“Young people today are looking for quality of life as well as a good job,” Kinney said. “We want to get them excited about opportunities in this region.”
But the Iowa Central president was quick to point out that the regional center would not restrict itself only to high school students. It would serve as an adult education facility as well.
Adults can’t usually go to classes in the daytime hours, Kinney noted, and area businesses such as manufacturers don’t normally have space or time for education beyond their own occupied facilities. The career academy would provide training for adults in the evenings or on weekends.
The academy could also offer an online component, for instance with evening advanced courses, Kinney said.
The proposal presented to the Greene County school board last month envisions a bond issue vote sometime next year that would include a new high school and the regional center building, but would shift funding for the new high school gymnasium and sports facilities to the private sector.
Other parts of the new campus might also be considered for private funding.
The cost to construct the regional center building would be of about the same magnitude of bonds rejected twice earlier by voters. The new costs would be reduced by shifting the sports facilities to private sources.
Under the proposal, middle school classes would be moved to the current high school building, and the current middle school building could be repurposed, possibly for condominium or rental housing.