When the second of four Kirkwood regional centers was conceived for the Linn County area, officials expected it would start out serving 250 high school students in additional to its traditional student population.
But on Thursday, as Kirkwood officials convened for an open house to celebrate the new Linn County Regional Center, Director Mindy Thornton boasted an enrollment of 500 high school students – twice the anticipated total.
“We have exceeded our enrollment in all areas,” Thornton said.
The Linn County Regional Center, which actually began offering courses in May, is the second of four Kirkwood regional centers set to open across Eastern Iowa. The Jones County Regional Center opened in 2009 in Monticello, and the Washington County and Johnson County centers are slated to debut in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
The centers in Linn and Johnson counties are expected to be the biggest of the four centers, all of which will offer career academics and college-level courses to area high school students. The Jones County center has an enrollment of about 250 high school students and 100 traditional students.
In addition to the 500 high school students taking courses at the new Linn County Center, another nearly 500 traditional community college students are enrolled. The centers aim to partner with local school districts – including 16 high schools in the Linn County center’s case – to offer college-level credits.
High school students who are enrolled at the centers can get a head start on earning college credits at no cost to them, and they can receive work certification for various specialty industries.
“So when they graduate high school, some of them will be ready to work or work while continuing to go to school,” Thornton said.
Kirkwood is continuing to offer college-level courses in area high schools, reaching another 700 students that way, Thornton said. She stressed the regional centers aren’t pushing out programming in the high schools, but rather supplementing it.
She said the idea is to give students a head start on identifying their future careers and getting them on the path to reach them. One Kirkwood regional center high school-aged student who started in Jones County and now is taking courses in Linn County is on track to earn a two-year degree from Kirkwood before graduating high school – at no cost to him.
“They say the fastest way to silence a high school student is to ask them what they want to be when they grow up,” Thornton said. “We want to help kids figure it out before they have to pay for it on their own.”
David Benson, superintendent for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, said he and his colleagues know quite a bit about educating high school students in the traditional setting.
“But that transition to college and career is so important to us,” he said. “This will go a long way toward helping a number of our students do that.”
President Mick Starcevich said the Linn County center is 100,000 square feet, but it’s what’s inside that is really impressive.
“It’s what’s inside the building that makes the difference,” he said.