For some Washington County students, starting back to school this fall will look different thanks to the newest Kirkwood Community College regional center debuting today just outside downtown Washington.
The Washington County Regional Center is the third of four community campuses Kirkwood is developing in Eastern Iowa through partnerships with local school districts, private businesses, and — in the case of the Johnson County Regional Center — the University of Iowa.
The Jones County Regional Center opened first in 2009 in Monticello, and the Linn County Regional Center followed, opening last year in Cedar Rapids. Classes at the newest regional center in Washington County begin today, and the Johnson County Regional Center — being built on the Oakdale Camus in Coralville — is scheduled to cap the four-center project when it opens next year.
The centers in Linn and Johnson counties are expected to be the largest, but all the sites will offer career academics and college-level courses to both traditional college-aged students and local high students. The goal, according to Kirkwood officials, is to make education and training at all levels more accessible to everyone from high school students to adults looking for certification, the chance at a promotion, or a new career.
The nearly 40,000 square-foot Washington County Regional Center is housing traditional college credit courses, high school completion courses, concurrent credit academy classes for students still in high school, adult literacy and English Language Learners courses, noncredit classes and training, and certification through Kirkwood’s continuing education programs.
Its programming, which officials developed using input from six partner school districts and local employers, includes educational opportunities that are tailored to the region’s employment demands. Specifically, it boasts strong technical training and STEM courses — those pertaining to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, said Tera Pickens, director of the newest regional center.
“We get to be part of something that really matters and will have a profound impact on educational opportunities in Washington County,” Pickens said. “We couldn’t be more excited about how our community has already embraced our center.”
Some of the region-specific educational offerings include advanced manufacturing, welding and a transportation academy, according to Pickens.
“Those are some of the really cool hands-on offerings we have here,” she said.
Students, through the center, also can take advantage of the Workplace Learning Connection, which helps connect high school students with job shadows and internships in the area. Students will have access to one-on-one financial aid counseling, academic advising, a writing lab, developmental math emporium, tutor center, and career guidance.
“We’re helping to create the pipeline and future workforce for our region within the walls of Washington County Regional,” Pickens said. “We are really proud of that fact.”
High school students wanting to take advantage of the center and earn college credit can come for half days during the week. So far, nearly 200 from six high schools have signed up, and Pickens said the center also hosts an alternative high school, which has about 25 students so far.
An additional 200 traditional college-credit students are enrolled, bringing the center’s total enrollment to about 400 on opening day.
The center sits on land donated by longtime Kirkwood supporters and Washington residents Jim and Margaret Dunn and their family.
“The Washington County Regional Center opens a lot of doors for the southern part of Kirkwood’s service area,” Pickens said. “There is truly something here for everyone, from high school through working adults, whether you’re the top of the class or you need a little help getting started.”
Kirkwood Community College, based in Cedar Rapids, has more than 25,000 annual college-credit students.