By Katie Dahlstrom Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Ashford students, faculty and staff met with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds Tuesday to talk about the university and state education initiatives.
“We’ve invested about $40 million and brought 400 jobs that probably wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Ashford University Vice President and Campus Director John Ballheim told the state leaders during a tour of the campus.
In the past years, the university has upgraded its science facilities and other technology as well as added a locker room and concession area to its athletic facilities on 14th Street, among other investments.
Beyond the financial investments, Ashford President Richard Pattenaude talked about the steps the company has taken to increase student retention and move away from its alleged focus on student recruitment. Those steps include steps such as adding more full-time faculty and reducing the amount of admission representatives. Some of those steps were in response to the university’s initial accreditation denial from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which last month reversed its decision and approved a five-year accreditation for Ashford.
“Student success is really good business for us,” Pattenaude said.
Ashford, along with other for-profit colleges, last year came under fire from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, for its exponential growth and recruitment practices. Branstad Tuesday called the criticism “unfortunate.”
“I think Ashford has done some great things for Clinton. It’s created jobs, it’s purchased buildings in the community, built athletic facilities and it focuses on education. We also appreciate when a company makes a $40 million dollar investment in Iowa. We want to encourage and support their success,” Branstad said.
After the tour of the campus, Branstad and Reynolds spoke with faculty, staff and members of the Student Government Association about the initiatives Iowa is implementing, such as the STEM Advisory Council that promotes science, technology, engineering and math programs.
“The lieutenant governor and I have really focused on bringing more good jobs to Iowa, revitalizing our education system in our state and restoring Iowa to be a leader in the nation in student achievement,” Branstad said.
The visit was part of the governor and lieutenant governor’s tour of each of Iowa’s 99 counties. The five-term governor will be up for re-election in 2014 and potential opponents are lining up to challenge him in the gubernatorial race.
“You are the future and we want to build a future that is bright in our state by reducing the tax and regulatory burdens and increasing our commitment to education and making sure we’re doing all we can to create good jobs,” Branstad said.
The pair fielded questions from Ashford students and staff, including one from a parent concerned that Iowa’s standardized tests are holding back her child.
“What we’re hearing is ‘we don’t think this test is a good measure either,’” Branstad said of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. “In fact, in the state of Iowa, we’ve developed state standards and now we’re part of the consortium that is trying to align these tests with the state standards. We think that’s a better test than the ITBS.”
Iowa also is part of the Smarter Balanced consortium to implement tests that are in line with the Common Core, which could help the disconnect between standards and standardized tests, Branstad explained.
“Competency-based and hands-on learning should really be driving education,” Reynolds said.
Branstand and Reynolds also discussed the number of students who receive their educations in Iowa only to leave, as well as how to recruit immigrants to live and work in the state.
“We need to encourage and support legal immigration to Iowa,” Branstad said. “We have a lot of international students that come here and take math and science and we need to be able to make it possible for them to stay here.”
Ashford faculty asked what the governor and lieutenant governor are doing to add more opportunities for students and businesses in the state by supporting internship programs.
Reynolds said as part of the STEM initiative, the state is working to build a repository of businesses and industries that are looking for internships at the high school and college levels.
“In business and industry there is such a skills gap right now and such a need for employment that they really are reaching out,” Reynolds said. “Then the students can start to see the relevancy and it goes right into employment.”