The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

October 10, 2013

Data: Retention low at Iowa community colleges

DES MOINES — Statistics show fewer students return for a second year at Iowa’s community colleges than in other Midwestern states, but officials say they’re working to change that.

Iowa’s retention rate of 49.9 percent means just half of the students are returning. The rate is also lower than the national average of 53 percent, The Des Moines Register reported. Federal data from 2010 shows Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have higher retention rates.

Iowa’s 15 community colleges have implemented new programs in recent years to boost retention, including mandatory orientation classes and a more aggressive outreach to struggling students. School leaders have also started meeting once a year to discuss ways to improve retention and graduation rates.

“The loss is the lost potential of a person who doesn’t finish,” said Des Moines Area Community College President Robert Denson. “The more education and skills you have, the more ability you have to command a higher wage,” he told the newspaper.

Data from Iowa Workforce Development show only a third of the state’s adults qualify for the growing number of jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., shows the lifetime earnings of a typical college graduate is about $650,000 more than for a high school graduate.

Results from the new retention programs have been mixed in Iowa but more successful in nearby states like Wisconsin, where the student retention rate is 58 percent. Retention programs have also been successful in states outside the region, including Florida. Broward College in the Fort Lauderdale area, which launched retention programs in 2003, had a student retention rate of 66 percent in 2009, a jump from 57 percent in 2006.

DMACC’s retention rate has remained around 50 percent since at least 2007, but some programs show promise. A mandatory orientation class that debuted in fall 2012 shows 89 percent of students who passed the class enrolled for the spring semester, compared with 66 percent who did not take the class.

In 2009, Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids began contacting students who showed signs of academic struggles. And a new one-day orientation introduces students to faculty, advisers and other school resources.

“I do think it’s a challenge to get them to come in,” said Bobbi Miller, the college’s associate dean of students. “But once they come in, they appreciate that somebody is willing to sit down and talk with them,”

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