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Funding cuts create tuition hike quandry for community colleges

Thursday, February 10, 2011

DES MOINES -- A double-digit tuition increase would be needed to replace the funding community colleges have lost and stand to lose in the current state budget scenario, according to a community college spokesman.

"That's not acceptable," Steve Ovel, a lobbyist for Iowa community colleges, said this week at the Capitol. "We have to make sure that doesn't happen."

That impact would also directly affect Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, and its branch campuses in Cherokee and Denison.

Community colleges have been hit with a double-whammy of a $5.9 million de-appropriation in the waning days of Gov. Chet Culver's administration and an $8.4 million cut in Gov. Terry Branstad's budget. State aid to community colleges will fall below $2,000 per student, Ovel said.

To make up the lost funding, he said, Kirkwood Communuity College, which is based in Cedar Rapids, would have to raise its $118 per credit hour base tuition by $14.

The funding loss threatens the community colleges' ability to respond to the workforce skill needs of Iowa businesses and industry, both new and existing, he said.

Branstad, who signed the New Jobs Training Program into law in 1983, is supportive of those programs. On Iowa Public Radio's "The Exchange" on Monday, Branstad said the program has "been one of the most flexible jobs training programs .... It's really helped us bring jobs to Iowa."

He went on to say the program should be "improved and perfected."

Ovel and representatives of the Iowa Department of Economic Development will present several recommendations for improving the jobs training programs to the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week. The recommendations call for no decrease in the current funding.

"We think we've peeled away all we can peel away," he said.

Also, Peter Hemken, DuPont vice president for global strategy development for agriculture and nutrition businesses, including Pioneer Hi-Bred, praised community colleges' workforce training programs. He's also a member of the Iowa Innovation Council, which he said has been working with community colleges to establish priorities for job training programs.

"Job training programs are particularly important to attracting jobs," he said.

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