BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
I was covering a recent school board meeting when FMHS Principal Greg Smith was presenting a regular report to the FMCSD school board.
As part of the presentation, Smith mentioned that a committee had been formed to look into the possibility of building a regional education center in Lee County.
As the only reporter at the Pen City Current, sometimes it’s inevitable that I find myself playing a little catch up. I hadn’t heard rumblings of this venture, but as I start to put the pieces together it seems like this effort couldn’t have better timing.
I have two girls in my house, one has gone through college and one is just about to embark on college. It’s my responsibility, but more my pleasure, to help them achieve their goals in life. But picking up another mortgage and a half to put them through school is the bitter with the sweet.
Not that this REC would help my savings account at all, but it may help other families in Lee County directly. In the simplest of terms, universities are pricing themselves out of the game and people are looking for alternatives to the high price of college.
This center, if my understanding is clear, would be a center where students could take college level courses monitored and administered by Southeastern Community College for free. Much like your dual courses you can take at area high schools now, but more courses would be offered. Nowadays, every credit you can take of college while in high school saves families.
According to the student support organization College Board, in-state tuition at a four-year institution is nearing (if not over when thinking all-in) $21,000 per year. With Iowa facing a shortfall of $117 million in the upcoming budget, eyes will be looking in all directions for where to pare.
Current FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) formulas have not been adjusted for the increasing costs of health care. And they ask, but don’t make monetary, adjustments to tax information for other students in the family already in college. The government has taken over all student loans although families can still borrow privately. So the government forms dictate the degree of aid, dictate the interest rate and rarely say no to families looking to borrow. In a nutshell they are profiting off student’s education, which is a shame to say the least.
So with families up against the mounting debt of college education the REC is a potential snort of fresh air. This would increase students chances for a more affordable college experience. It could also provide programming for traditional college students, adults, vocational training and high school completion programs.
Aside from that it would allow local industries to be involved in targeting curriculums to their specific needs, which would help create the workforce they need to survive.
From an economic development standpoint, it’s an attractor because it would certainly put more points on our side if we could show those efforts underway or in place.
The discussion and work is really in its infancy stages, but someone willing to put up some land for a future location would stoke the fire. Smith said a prime location would be somewhere near Donnellson or other central Lee County area.
The committee involves people from local industry, Fort Madison Community School District, Lee County Economic Development Group and Southeastern Community College. Smith said local industry and the community college are on board to help with costs and functionality of the center, but it’s going to take some philanthropy and generosity to get the project off the ground.