SHELDON, Iowa – Enrollment at Iowa’s community colleges has increased for the first time since 2010. One of the biggest areas of growth has been career and technical programs.
Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon followed this trend, reporting both an increase in enrollment and the largest sweat class in the school’s history.
Statewide, community college enrollments continue to fall, reporting a 0.4 percent drop in enrollment this fall. Iowa’s annual fall enrollment report showed community college enrollment increased 0.6 percent.
A total of 82,251 community colleges were enrolled this fall. Enrollment at Iowa Community College peaked in 2010 at 106,596, but enrollment has declined since then. Of the 15 community colleges in Iowa, seven reported enrollment growth.
In Siouxland, Northwest Iowa Community College reported an enrollment increase of 5.4 percent; This resulted in the largest fall class in its history and the largest student enrollment in the Welding program. Western Iowa Tech Community College reported a 5.5 percent drop.
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The majority of students enrolled in Iowa’s community colleges are part-time students. Since 2010, full-time enrollments have declined while part-time enrollments have steadily increased, hitting an all-time record 65.9 percent of total enrollments this year, according to the report.
NCC enrolled 1,798 students this fall, 69 percent are part-time students.
NCC saw record participation in the welding program this fall. There are 25 full-time students and eight local high school students taking the courses.
In the state, career and technical programs grew 3.2 percent, according to IDE, and accounted for 28.6 percent of community college students.
Robert Hoting has been an instructor for NCC’s welding program for 25 years. He started with one student and has seen the program grow and change over the years.
Hoting believes the recent surge in enrollments is due to awareness of the new welding lab that NCC renovated in 2019, as well as the broad coverage the program offers when it comes to welding.
“It’s not just one process or the other,” Hoting said. “We cover a little bit of stick welding, gas metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, and they get a taste of the whole process so they get a pretty good idea of where they want to go in their career.”
During his teaching years, Hoting has seen tremendous advances in welding machines and the industry at large. He tries to ensure that the coursework keeps pace with industry demands and current equipment.
The course is less bookwork and more hands-on learning with real-world experiences.
Welding specialists are in great demand nationwide. Hoting said every person has interacted with welded objects, from vehicles to bedsteads, and there aren’t enough students entering the field to meet the demand.
Hoting said most of his students will have employment before they graduate, and he often gets calls from area industries asking him to send welders to them.
Nationally, the American Welding Society predicts that 336,000 new welders will be needed by 2026, with around 84,000 needed each year.
Jacob Foster and Bryce Olson are two of the students who take NCC’s welding courses. Olson is a freshman at NCC and Foster is a junior at Sheldon High School who takes NCC welding classes in the mornings and finishes high school in the afternoons.
Both have previous welding experience and knew this was the career field they wanted to follow. Foster and Olson said they’ve heard good things about NCC’s welding program and Hoting’s apprenticeship.
“It’s a really good atmosphere,” Foster said.
While enrollments at community colleges are declining, enrollments at 4-year colleges and universities are increasing, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Olson and Foster said they believe parents are encouraging students to seek four-year degrees rather than looking at community college offerings.
Foster said he wouldn’t want to attend a four-year university because of the size and expense. Olson said he likes the interpersonal relationships that community colleges offer.
“We’re not just a number,” he said. “They are here to help us in any way.”