Iowa Western sets goal to train 100 nursing assistants
Growing up as a nurse’s daughter, 21-year-old Chloe McIntosh seemed destined for a career in nursing. As such, it isn’t too surprising to learn that McIntosh recently became certified as a nursing assistant through a short-term program at Iowa Western Community College. What is surprising, though, is that she – along with 99 others – was able to do it for free.
Through a new, innovative initiative offered at Iowa Western, 100 students will become trained as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at no cost. Each student of the two-week course will receive free tuition and exams as well as a set of scrubs, shoes and a stethoscope. The average cost savings for these 100 students is estimated around $1,200 each.
“I’m not eligible for other financial assistance because they use my parents’ income when calculating eligibility,” said McIntosh, who lives in Council Bluffs. “The tuition assistance for the CNA class provided a great opportunity for me.”
To support the 100 CNA students, Iowa Western has utilized a mix of funding, including Gap Tuition Assistance and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER II Gap Expansion). Both funds provide financial support for tuition, fees and equipment for training in a high-demand job field.
Eligibility for Gap Tuition Assistance is based on the student’s household finances. Persons who are between 150-250 percent of the federal poverty level and show the capacity to achieve success and employment are given first priority for tuition assistance.
Comparatively, the GEER II Gap Expansion funds reach more students by offering funding support to those who do not qualify for other financial assistance such as the general Gap Tuition Assistance, Last Dollar Scholarship or Pell grants. GEER II Gap Expansion is a part of the $11.5 million in discretionary funds received through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2020. Iowa’s 15 community colleges received nearly $2.9 million for GEER II Gap Expansion funding.
“Having the GAP and GEER II Gap Expansion funding allows us the resources to eliminate barriers for students who would otherwise not be able to afford additional education and training,” said Libby Woods, director of adult education at Iowa Western Community College. “This can lead them to a career pathway or employment opportunities with a livable wage.”
McIntosh’s new CNA certification has certainly helped advance her own college and career pathway in nursing. She valued her time in the course and believes that CNAs play a valuable role in health care overall.
“I was in a class with 10 other women, and we learned so much,” McIntosh said. “I would encourage others to get into health care. CNAs take care of people. It’s an important job.”
At Iowa Western, a CNA course typically has between 8-14 students per class. Their small, personable class size as well as the ability to provide funding support has been beneficial in getting more students in the door of their three training locations in Council Bluffs, Harlan and Clarinda.
“Right off the bat, we had 80 applicants,” Woods said. “Our first class started on Nov. 1, and our second started on Nov. 29. More classes will convene in 2022, and we’ll continue to take applicants until we get to 100 or even more.”
Currently, CNAs, nurses and other health-care workers are in high demand in Iowa and across the country. The free training and resources provided through Iowa Western offers opportunities for 100 individuals while also addressing critical needs within their community’s workforce.
“We know our community members need the assistance and need health-care employees,” Woods said. “The CNA program is one of our most popular short-term programs. It’s one that community partners can see the benefits immediately.”
Similar initiatives to train more CNAs are starting to pop up at other community colleges, too. For example, Des Moines Area Community College has also announced a push to train 100 CNAs at no cost, and Southwestern Community College is using Gap Tuition Assistance and GEER II Gap Expansion funding to assist with their CNA student trainings.
Woods also says that Iowa Western is looking beyond CNA trainings to see what other high-demand job fields may benefit from a similar initiative.
“We hope to expand to other programs,” she said. “It would be great to do a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) course or welding course.”
For McIntosh, she continues in her mother’s footsteps towards a future in nursing. She hopes to complete her nursing degree and become a registered nurse in pediatrics after five more semesters at Iowa Western. And she is proud to know that her career choice will make an impact.
“Health is essential,” she said. “I know how bad it is for health-care staffing right now. We need to help.”