Hart talks about cost of higher education

‘It’s important to invest in community colleges that make such a difference’

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Courtney Sogard Sen. Rita Hart, who is running for lieutenant governor as Fred Hubbell’s running mate, elaborates on her own community college background during a discussion on the Iowa Central campus in Webster City Thursday.

State Sen. Rita Hart, who is running for lieutenant governor with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell, was in attendance for a roundtable discussion about education reform at the college level at the Iowa Central Community College Webster City campus on Thursday.

The main issues discussed were how Hart plans to aid Hubbell in preventing increased tuition for community colleges and regent schools, and how to provide apprenticeship and job training programs in order to enable Iowans to earn higher wages and enhance the state’s economy.

Hart met with local community college and area business officials to discuss the types of programs ICCC is implementing in order to enhance the job market.

“It’s important to invest in community colleges that make such a difference, not only for the students attending the facilities, but for the community at large and for the local businesses hungry for workers,” Hart said. ”The types of partnerships that ICCC is fostering here and the kinds of opportunities they are able to provide for their students, is what is truly beneficial, to not only the community, but to the state as a whole. It’s a work in progress, every community college is different and speaks to their own community and that is a beautiful thing and that is why we need to be appropriately funding these types of programs.”

Officials stated the importance of providing the funding needed to help with the general student aid that would allow students to attend college or some type of apprenticeship program. The solution for getting the funds allocated to these types of programs, according to Hart, is to first create a system that is geared towards local decision making and giving local boards of elected officials the power to implement those decisions with a sort of checks and balances structure. If the local elected officials on school boards can’t deliver what was promised, they shouldn’t be in power to make the vital decision of where the funding should be allocated, at both the K-12 school and community college levels, she added.

Jim Kersten, the vice president of external affairs and government relations for all ICCC campuses, suggested to Hart a possible solution to increasing the state general aid for community colleges, by possibly dipping into the SAVE funding, which is the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education funding program, formerly known as the statewide school infrastructure sales and services tax. The SAVE state funding pertains to only K-12 education and generates $450 million as of now, but what Kersten is proposing is to meet with K-12 and community college leaders to discuss the possibility of “creating an investment pool with a portion of the SAVE money and then leverage with local private bond related funding to match it to build regional academies.”

Regional academies, which are programs designed to increase the number of juniors and seniors with higher skills towards science and math to enter into the health and engineering fields, would be an example of how the community colleges could help to boost their own job markets. ICCC currently provides dual credit courses for the local high schools for various education programs, and the regional academies proposed could be the next step on their journeys towards higher learning. An example of a program that has shown success in the Webster City community and at the ICCC campus brought to Hart’s attention was the GAP Tuition Assistance Program, which is a program “established to provide funding to community colleges for need-based tuition assistance to applicants to enable completion of continuing education certificate training programs for in-demand occupations,” according to the Iowa Department of Education website.

The GAP program was used during ICCC’s recent Integrated Certified Nursing Aide course and provided a tuition-ree class teaching students the ins and outs of the CNA world, by working with local nursing homes and conducting in class training on how to be more prepared for the workforce.

Without the GAP assistance helping to fund the ICNA course, the program wouldn’t have been tuition free.

The main goal of the roundtable discussion was to shed light on the growing concerns towards education costs and the necessity for state funding to be put into the general aid fund to help Iowa community colleges, like the ICCC Webster City campus, create the types of programs that will educate students to have the skill set needed to work in today’s job market.

Hart referred to the increasing tuition costs that are detrimental to students, leaving them with the burden of debt right after they graduate from college. Increased tuition costs are one of the forms of funding that the community colleges rely on to run their campuses, which the additional state funding could help to offset this financial burden that so many Iowa college students are facing.

“The last couple of sessions have been particularly brutal to the community colleges, especially with mid-year budget cuts, so we need to make sure we are looking at this budget in general, which is why I am happy to partner with Fred Hubbell,” Hart said. “With his business background he has obviously had the experience we need when looking at a budget. He can figure out where we need to be putting our priorities and how we can take a look at these tax credits that are going to these out of state corporations, to see if we are truly getting the return to the state of Iowa that is appropriate, and therefore being able to restructure that budget so we are putting our money toward where it truly is going to move the state forward.”

The panel of college and business officials gathered with Hart were Kersten; Colette Bertran, director of the ICCC WC campus; Jon Boughton, administrator of Southfield Wellness Community; Betty Daniel, nursing coordinator; Tony Finn, career navigator and ESL support specialist; and Jessica Bailey, ESL instructor.