Iowa Central could see more state funding

Iowa Central Community College could receive millions more in state funding for the 2013-2014 academic year.

However, the exact amount is subject to ongoing negotiations in the Iowa Legislature, according to Jim Kersten, Iowa Central vice president of external affairs and government relations.

“They’re going to go to a conference committee on the budget. The House Republicans and the governor recommended $10 million in new state general aid, and the Senate Democrats passed a budget with $16 million in new aid,” Kersten said. “Right now, at the minimum, we’re going to have $10 million more than we had last year.”

In addition, the Senate has passed an additional $7.5 million for the college’s workforce training programs, for a total of $15.5 million, Kersten said. The college will also receive $5 million for its Clear Pathway programs.

The Workforce Development Fund would also get a boost.

“It appropriates a total of $6 million in the Senate version. And so the total new funding roughly for the community college is $25 million in new work-force funding dollars. And the House is at about $16 million,” Kersten said. “We’ll have a compromise somewhere in between there by the end of the negotiating time frame.”

Iowa Central will also receive funding in other areas for the first time.

“Iowa is one of two states that does not provide funding for adult basic education,” Kersten said. “The Senate has appropriated $7.5 million and the house has appropriated zero, so that will be an item to compromise on.”

The Workplace Learning Intermediary program, also a new funding stream, will receive $3 million.

“That provides the community college with funding to have staff that will work with our high schools, junior high schools, middle schools and businesses to bring awareness to the type of jobs that are available in our regions of the state,” Kersten said. “So kids can start thinking at a younger age about what career opportunities are out there and then get them aligned with the jobs that are open.”

Iowa Central provides training for jobs with local bioscience companies such as Cargill and CJ Bio America.

“There’s a lot of advanced manufacturing,” Kersten said. “We just need to get the students and their parents exposed to that. And this funding will help us do that.”

Because Iowa Central is a nonprofit organization, the funds will go to actual training and programs, Kersten said.

“We’re using a significant amount of money to train Cargill and their employees,” he said. “And to do that we have to buy expensive equipment that the future workers can be trained on. It’s like a simulated factory, and we work closely not only with Cargill and CJ but we have all other existing industries.”

He added, “We truly do train and use these funds through the nine counties that we service.”

Kersten said the substantial increase in funds is “reflective of the growing economy in Iowa.”

“The community colleges, Iowa Central, for example, have done a really good job of communicating to our legislators, through our business partners about the funding needs in the Legislature and democracy is working,” he said. “It’s responding to the needs.”

Dan Kinney, Iowa Central president, described the increase in funds as exciting.

“I think the state legislators, the governor, both houses have really recognized the strength of the community college in meeting the unemployment and jobs challenges in Iowa,” he said. “(The governor) wanted 200,000 new jobs in Iowa and I think the community college is going to play a big role in that.”

Kinney said that while the amount is more than originally expected, it is not unprecedented.

“We started off looking really well and as we’ve gone through the session we’ve seen other things come out of it, so I’m excited,” he said, “but it still puts us underfunded from where we were in the ’08-’09 time frame. Still, it helps us catch up and we’ll see what happens into the future.”

Nothing, though, has been decided yet by the state Legislature, Kersten said.

“The budget has not been finalized. Hopefully, it will be in the next week or so,” he said. “But we’re confident we’ll have an increase in funding and we will then have to be accountable for those funds to make sure we use it in an appropriate manner.”