Chronicle Editorial

Prioritize funding hike for Iowa community colleges


     State Democrats cried foul last week after Terry Branstad failed to prioritize funding for community colleges when he unveiled his 2014 budget priorities. Speculation about increased tuition costs was rampant in the wake of the announcement, but Branstad’s plan is by no means set in stone.

     Iowa’s 15 community colleges received a 9 percent funding boost last year to keep tuition rates low and marginalized rising educational costs. The increase was generally welcomed across party lines, but the governor’s preliminary budget goals ruffled a few feathers. Many legislators feel another funding raise is key to keeping community colleges affordable for Iowa’s growing workforce. These institutions provide each corner of the state with exceptional vocational training and other assets, which help strengthen Iowa’s economy by adding more skilled workers to the mix.

     The stalled support for the state’s community colleges comes at a precarious time. Backbreaking tuition costs at four-year universities makes attending those institutions a mere pipe dream for many people, so the only financially viable option usually boils down to a two-year school. Iowa’s community colleges provide skilled training for new areas of the economy like wind energy in addition to more traditional vocations. They open the door for numerous high-paying jobs for thousands of Iowans, and their benefit at the local level is obvious.

     The state’s network of community colleges provides educational resources for each regional location that often transcends normal vocational training. First and foremost, they help boost educational opportunities for local high school students through dual-credit classes. Students are able to earn college credit before graduating, which strengthens their education while simultaneously shrinking some of their future financial load. Dual-credit courses create one less class students have to take if they head to a four-year school, in turn streamlining their path to a degree and saving a few bucks. Second, these institutions provide resources that strengthen the communities they serve. Be it paramedic training or some other special class, citizens are afforded the opportunity to learn essential training to provide vital services.

     The benefits of boosting funding support for Iowa’s community colleges are obvious, and just simply fair. The State Board of Regents OK’d a plan in December to freeze in-state tuition rates at Iowa’s three public universities for a second-straight year. Branstad supported the freeze in his 2014 budget priorities and called for a funding boost for regent schools to help cover costs so tuition can remain at current rates. Though four-year schools are still extremely costly, efforts to help lessen that burden for Iowa’s students are commendable. It only makes sense to do the same at the community level. Increased funding from the state government would help keep costs at two-year institutions low for Iowans not capable of attending a four-year school.

     Branstad’s budget plan was far from the final draft. Though some key lawmakers were upset by the community college funding snub, a bipartisan deal that increases funding is most likely on the horizon. Iowa’s community colleges help strengthen the workforce, provide educational opportunities for high school students, and they help better the regions they serve. Supporting our community colleges is an investment in the economy and the workers that comprise it. It only makes sense to continue that promise in 2014 and beyond.