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Education

Fewer Students Enrolled In Community College At The Worst Of The Pandemic, And The Schools Are Trying To Get Them Back

09162021-Community-College
Des Moines Area Community College
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Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) is working on regaining students, especially students of color, after the pandemic caused a drop in enrollment numbers.

Community colleges saw fewer students enroll once the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa hard. That also meant fewer students of color during that time. Now, the schools are trying to regain the momentum they had before the pandemic.

“I think as a sector, we lost a lot of ground last year with students of color. And my hope is that we can regain that in the next year or two in terms of teaching them how to come back," said Shelli Allen, the vice president for enrollment services and student success at Des Moines Area Community College.

Between 2019 and 2020, Iowa hit a record number of racial and ethnic minority students enrolling in community colleges. Twenty three-point-seven percent of students in school for their associate's degree or other certification identified as a minority.

Allen attributed this to the state’s overall growing diversity. Recent census data showed 2021 as the first time Iowa's white-only population decreased, and other racial and ethnic groups increased.

Allen said community colleges can still do better at recruiting students of color. This includes introducing higher education as an option for high school students who haven't been exposed to the possibility.

“In Iowa, what we're seeing is that we're increasing in terms of diversity, both from our populations that are just in the area, but also we've seen a huge increase in refugee populations," Allen said. "So being able to serve those students will result in an increase for all [community colleges].”

DMACC, which has six campuses and a number of centers, saw a steady increase in overall student numbers since 2017.

2020 to 2021 presented a drop (36,961 to 33,480), as Allen said more students most likely decided in-school was not the best learning format for them, "which is completely understandable."

The largest change for DMACC from 2020 to 2021 was in white students, which accounts for the majority of the student population. But students of color also saw a drop in enrollment and saw a higher one-year percent change.

Hispanic males saw the largest change, down 21.8 percent. The number of Black male students declined by 19.1 percent.

"When we look at first generation college students, when we look at students of color, in many cases, when we look at students from economically-depressed backgrounds, what we find is that no one has told them that college is an option," Allen said. "So being able to talk with those students and teach them that, yes, it's an option. And here's how you do it, I think makes a huge difference."

Allen said one of DMACC's goals is for 60 percent of Iowa's total population to have a post-secondary credential by 2035. And although the pandemic posed as a speedbump to that goal, Allen said it's the state's community colleges' responsibility to encourage higher education opportunities to people of all backgrounds.