A silver lining

Iowa Central Community College has had a 9.5 percent decline in credit hours and an 8.5 percent decline in its head count for the 2013-14 school year.

According to Tom Beneke, vice president of enrollment management and student development, the decline reflects the region’s economic improvement.

“It’s a trend you see common throughout the state, especially in the community college arena,” Beneke said. “When there’s high unemployment, that affects your enrollment in a positive way. When there’s lots of work in your region, that affects your enrollment in a negative way. That’s where the silver lining is. It’s good people are working in our region.”

Iowa Central saw its enrollment increase in 2010 following the layoffs at Electrolux, with workers being retrained under the 2009 Trade Act.

Dan Kinney, Iowa Central president, said of the 500-student decline in their head count that more than half were former Electrolux workers.

“We had that blip of Electrolux when Webster City and Jefferson laid off. At the height of it, we had a little over 500. Right now, we’re down to about 100,” Kinney said. “We sent about 250 out back to the work force last year. We sent them back to the market.”

Kinney describes the increase as an anomaly.

“If you take away the Electrolux numbers, we’d be down about 2 or 3 percent … because of the existing business and the expansion they’re doing. It wouldn’t be normal, but it would be well below the state average,” he said. “It’s bad for us, but it’s great for the community that these jobs are coming to our region and what’s happening out there.”

He added, “It’s also showing we’re doing what we need to do. We’re educating individuals, trying to get them out to work.”

Those students have now found work in Fort Dodge and the region, Beneke said.

“We knew that would happen to us, as those students were coming to us and graduating, getting their certificates and diplomas and going back into the work force,” he said. “The other side of it is everything that’s going on west of Fort Dodge with business and industry. There’s just a lot of opportunities for folks to go out and get good paying jobs.”

He added, “We look at it as being a real partner in all of that because we’re providing more training for Cargill and CJ and some of the other companies here in Fort Dodge.”

The decrease will have a minimal impact on the school’s budget, Kinney said.

“The majority of our funding comes from student tuition. So, yes, we’re going to have less revenue because we have less student tuition coming in this year,” he said. “But you’ve got fewer students you’re serving to, so you’re able to balance that out.”

It will also not have much of an impact on state funding.

“If we were the only school that had a decrease, then yes, it would affect it. But everybody else, it sounds like, is having an enrollment decrease so it probably won’t affect us as bad,” Kinney said. “We get about 3.5 percent through local taxpayers, another 3 percent comes through federal grants and another 2 percent comes in from other income, maybe bookstore sales and residential hall income.”

According to Kinney, a plan is already in place to improve enrollment.

“We’ve got to get out there and recruit and retain better. Those are initiatives we’re already starting to implement,” he said. “We’re going to move forward. We’re going to be fine as an institution.”

Despite the decrease, campus housing is full, Beneke said.

“Our housing fills up because we have lots of activities and programs related to students wanting to live on campus,” he said. “They’re participating in the performing arts, they’re in cheerleading, playing football. Lots of those students want to stay on campus. That’s always been a positive for Iowa Central, that our housing is always maxed out.”