College Changes Everything

The Iowa College Student Aid Commission (Iowa College Aid) recently announced the award of a  $10,000 planning grant to support efforts to increase the college attainment rate in Ottumwa as part of the agency’s “College Changes Everything” initiative.

“The College Changes Everything initiative aims to help communities like Ottumwa build a civic infrastructure that supports a comprehensive cradle to career educational system, rather than a lot of unconnected programs,” said Iowa College Aid Executive Director Karen Misjak.

Ottumwa was awarded the grant, said Misjak, based on demonstrated need and a clear plan for working across private and public sectors to develop baseline measures for key educational indicators.  At 26%, the adult population in Ottumwa with an associate’s degree or higher is significantly lower that the states, which is 37%.  By 2020, it is estimated that close to 70% of all jobs in Iowa will require educational degrees or credentials beyond high school.

The grant will be used to conduct strategic planning aimed at organizing and initiating a community-based local college access network (LCAN) dedicated to increasing college attainment among Ottumwa students.  This Ottumwa LCAN is named C3 (College Cradle Career) and development of this LCAN has been based on a collective impact model which has included the following organizations in the initiative; United Way (also serving as the fiscal agent of the grant), Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, Indian Hills Community College, Ottumwa Community Schools, SIEDA, City of Ottumwa (Mayor), Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Ottumwa Chamber of Commerce and Iowa College Access Network.

“We want to improve the percentage of people who attend and graduate from college and also get certified in many of the programs offered by our community colleges,” said Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio.  “Not only does the additional education and training increase earning power, it provides more opportunity for people to live and work in rural Iowa.”

“The grant will allow community leaders to focus on increasing the percentage of 18-24 year olds who enter post-secondary education and vocational programs,” said Desiree Johnson, President and CEO, United Way of Wapello County, adding “we will be able to complete a landscape scan of current programs and identify gaps or barriers to accessing college or vocational programs.”

Kelly Genners, Director of Community Leadership & Grant-Making for the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, sees the planning grant as “an important first step in developing a truly collaborative effort around raising education attainment in our area, which aligns perfectly with Legacy’s commitment to education.”

Iowa College Aid’s College Changes Everything initiative has adopted Goal 2025, a goal set by Lumina foundation, which aims to increase the number of students receiving high-value educational degrees to 60% by 2025.  Initiatives such as College Changes Everything play critical roles in achieving this goal by mobilizing communities and increasing the visibility and impact of collaborative work to increase higher education attainment.