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Eastern Iowa expands hands-on learning opportunities

Date: Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Editor’s note: This school feature is part three in a series highlighting recent recipients of the Career Academy Incentive Fund. The Career Academy Incentive Fund was established by a 2019 law that extends a statewide penny sales tax for school infrastructure, called Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE), through January 2051. At least $1 million will be awarded annually to support career academy partnerships among community colleges, school districts, business and industry, Regional Planning Partnerships, Area Education Agencies and others to increase student access to college programs, state-of-the-art equipment and career paths in Iowa’s in-demand fields.

"The new regional center in DeWitt will add more CTE program opportunities for students in Clinton and Jackson counties."Building a thriving, well-skilled workforce is no small feat. It requires a multi-part strategy that ensures universal access to high-quality education and training opportunities in career and technical fields. For K-12 students, it requires a connection between the student’s career pathway, local education and training resources and support from businesses and the community.

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges are committed to this task and see career and technical education (CTE) programs as a way to prepare its communities’ workforce, provide equitable outcomes for students and contribute to regional economic growth.

Comprised of the three community colleges — Clinton, Muscatine and Scott — Eastern Iowa Community Colleges provide programs to high school and adult students in four counties and parts of four others. CTE programs offer high school students valuable industry experience and hands-on learning in six different service areas, and now through the Career Academy Incentive Fund, the colleges will be able to offer even more opportunities at a new stand-alone regional center in DeWitt.

“Combined with a portion of the recently passed $40 million bond levy, we plan to use the $1 million grant from the Career Academy Incentive Fund to build a new regional center in DeWitt,” said Don Doucette, chancellor for Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. “The facility will be affiliated with Clinton Community College and will help us reach more high school students and community members in Clinton and Jackson counties.”

As the fastest-growing city in Clinton County, DeWitt was selected as the site of the future regional center in order to address a geographical gap in programming.

“The distance between students in high schools and the campuses is important,” Doucette said. “If it is more than 20 to 30 minutes away, it is a barrier to students accessing our CTE programs. The new regional center will be more centralized in the county and will give better access to students in DeWitt, especially those at Calamus Wheatland and Central DeWitt, which are two of the school districts that are working with us.”

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges collaborated with and surveyed various educators, students and businesses in the area to determine what high-demand fields of study are desired for the future regional center. From those collected responses, the DeWitt center is planning to provide CTE programs in agriculture, business, construction technology, CNC (computer numerical control) machining, health care and information technology.

“This is a collaborative effort of economic development partners, school superintendents and industry,” said Brian Kelly, president of Clinton Community College. “The overwhelming support the proposal received from voters affirms the need for these programs and services in our community.”

“Agriculture and construction technology are two programs that we are excited to include,” Doucette said. “These are not currently offered by Clinton Community College, so they will be a great addition for our career academy in this county and for the students in the area.”

Through these CTE programs, students will have opportunities to gain high school and college credit concurrently as well as the potential to earn industry-recognized credentials. Eastern Iowa Community Colleges work diligently with high schools and shared career counselors to get students on a guided pathway model. Guided pathways, along with career academies, help support students to find and explore education and training programs and, ultimately, potential career fields.

“All of these things come together to create this system that provides high school students, high school graduates and adults seeking career advancement with high-quality training and education,” Doucette said. “CTE education and training leads to great jobs and great careers, including credentials and certifications that have value in the marketplace.”

The new regional center is tentatively scheduled to open in the fall of 2022. Construction in DeWitt is scheduled to begin this summer.