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IOWA COMMUNITY COLLEGES

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges sees increase in enrollment in fall 2021, is working to regain losses from COVID-19

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Eastern Iowa Community Colleges showed growth in its 2021 fall enrollment, though the overall enrollment trend at community colleges was down statewide.

The Iowa Department of Education recently presented a report to the Iowa State Board of Education on 2021 community college fall enrollment. Statewide enrollment was down despite increases at more than half of Iowa's 15 community colleges, including EICC, which includes Scott, Muscatine and Clinton community colleges.

Eastern Iowa showed the second highest growth in the state, according to the report. The college's total enrollment was 7,460, a 5.4% increase over fall 2020.

“I attribute a lot of our enrollment increase to just the relationships that we’ve built with our K-12 partners,” EICC Chancellor Don Doucette said.

The school districts understand EICC is a partner that will give their students opportunities, Doucette said.

Statewide, the total enrollment was 81,749 students, down 1.6% from 2020.

When looked at individually, eight other community colleges also showed growth, another college’s enrollment remained flat, and the rest showed declines.

During the discussion of the report at the state board meeting, the department of education official who presented said the drop was likely caused by several factors.

The most important is the economy. When the economy is tight, people are looking to get into the workforce while during economic booms people enroll at the community colleges to get retraining.

At the moment, companies want talent and labor, so it is not surprising that community colleges are seeing enrollment issues, he said.

That is expected to be a somewhat temporary impact but there can be a lag of as much as 18 months between a change in the economy and the related shift in enrollment.

Other potential factors contributing to the dip in enrollment include the pandemic’s impacts, demographic changes and birth rates 18 years ago, he said.

Much of the gain in enrollment statewide can be attributed to institutions adjusting to COVID-19’s disruptions last fall.

In the 2021 fall enrollment, EICC gained back some of its losses from the last two years, Doucette said.

“This is a post-COVID recovery,” Doucette said.

The highest growth in fall enrollment in 2021 over 2020 was at Iowa Central Community College. The two colleges with the greatest decrease were Des Moines Area Community College and North Iowa Area Community College respectively.

Iowa Central's total enrollment was 5,009, a 9.8% increase, while Des Moines Area had 20,536 students, a 10.9% decrease. North Iowa Area enrolled 2,482 students, a 7.4% loss compared to 2020.

In overall enrollment for fall 2021, Des Moines Area had the largest student body of the 15 schools. Kirkwood was second highest and Eastern Iowa was third. The smallest total enrollment was Southwestern, which had 1,542 students enroll for the fall.

Before the fall of 2021, EICC had been experiencing a more or less steady decrease in enrollment, Doucette said.

The number has been falling since a peak after the last recession. Between 2008 and 2010 or 2011, EICC had a 20% to 25% increase in enrollment.

“We’ve been kind of gradually coming down from that back to our normal levels over the last several years,” Doucette said.

A peak in enrollment is reflected in the state report’s data, beginning around 2009 and reaching its summit about 2011 before beginning to drop the following year.

Before that peak, enrollment was generally climbing, but not as steeply, according to the report. Since that peak, enrollment has dropped. By 2020, it was nearing the pre-peak level, then there was a steep drop that brought it below that point.

That drop was the largest in the last eight years, and the report attributes it to COVID-19’s impacts.

The report also projected enrollment for fall of 2022.

It predicted an increase over this year to between 81,830 and 83,269, though the actual number could fall outside that range depending on how the pandemic influences circumstances.

To encourage enrollment, EICC has been offering incentives and discounts in the last couple of years, including, recently, to people who have left EICC without completing their program, Doucette said.

Eastern Iowa wants to get them back in the door so they can see they still have an option of completing their program.

“We’re doing everything we can," Doucette said, "to make sure that we win back the students that we lost during COVID."

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