Don Doucette

DON DOUCETTE

The chancellor of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges said his administration continues to examine options for creating a centralized career and technical education (CTE) location that improves accessibility for future students.

“We’re all in,” said Donald Doucette, referring to the colleges’ commitment to offering high-quality post-secondary education that is equally accessible to everyone in Clinton and Jackson counties.

Iowa legislation signed in 2016 ordered high schools to align their curriculums with community colleges while developing a “regional center” approach.

The legislation was aimed at meeting the demands of the evolving labor market while providing equal access to hands-on, career-focused programming. 

For the other three counties that EICC serves — Scott, Muscatine and Louisa — officials likely will not need to seek out new properties. All instruction can remain on the Davenport and Muscatine campuses because of their close proximity to everyone in those three counties, Doucette said.

“However, Clinton Community College is not centrally located,” he noted. 

Because CCC is positioned in the southeast corner of its northern coverage zone, high-schoolers in northern Jackson County and western Clinton County face the prospect of long travel times.

Doucette noted that EICC also runs programming at 10 smaller facilities throughout its total coverage zone, including one in Maquoketa. But the area lacks an array of programming that one might expect to see at a college campus or metropolitan high school.

That’s why school district superintendents in Clinton and Jackson counties have expressed a strong desire for a new facility in a centralized location to better accommodate Calamus-Wheatland, Central DeWitt, Maquoketa, Clinton, Bellevue, Easton Valley, Northeast and Camanche school districts. 

“We’re out there looking at where we could build, what we could build, and how much it could cost,” Doucette said.

Cost often is of paramount importance to taxpayers, Doucette said, but it is just one of many considerations he is taking into account.

“We’re pretty far along in terms of what we can offer right now,” he said. “But the question is: ‘Is (a prospective new location) sustainable for several decades?’”

Regarding the potential for public financing, EICC already has general obligation bonds in place that are scheduled to be paid off in June 2021. EICC could opt to hold a referendum to extend the bonds. Conventional thinking suggests that taxpayers are more willing to extend a bond that already is in place versus approving a new one.

The current bond measures cost property owners 15 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation per year.

September marks the earliest date for which a bond referendum could be held to extend the bonds. Doucette said EICC has until March of next year to schedule a referendum for that purpose.

In the meantime, superintendents have agreed on a wish list that would entail the eventual creation of about 20 “career academies.” Class instruction for any of the academies in question likely would have to take place at one of the three EICC campuses unless a new facility becomes feasible.

The “career academy” model provides students with a clear progression from preparatory high school CTE courses to college-level CTE courses. The goal is to give students a career pathway that provides options along the way, depending on the level of instruction students may want to pursue and when they enter the workforce.

EICC recently announced that four new career academy disciplines will be offered at Clinton Community College starting this fall. The programming will expand opportunities for those interested in the education, business, health and advanced-manufacturing fields.

Throughout the nation, there is a widening gap between the number of workers who are needed to fill specialized occupations and the number of people who have acquired those skills. A long-term shortage of workers in some key areas potentially could slow down the U.S. economy.

The overarching goal is to identify potential career pathways for high school students and to equip them with college-level degrees, diplomas or certificates in those fields of study while still in high school. Students theoretically would have the option of entering the work force — presumably earning a respectable wage in a high-demand profession — or continuing their educations.