SHELDON—The fall semester is underway at Northwest Iowa Community College, the first for new president John Hartog, and the numbers are looking up.
The coronavirus pandemic declined enrollment at the Sheldon institute, he said, but things have been building back to normal even before he took over for former president Alethea Stubbe at the start of July.
Hartog pointed to relatively positive numbers in the college’s annual report from the Iowa Department of Education. During the 2020-21 school, NCC had 2,703 students enrolled in for-credit courses.
“A drop of 3.98 or 4 percent from the previous year,” Hartog said. “Given the circumstances of COVID and so forth, we wish it were more than that, but we’re actually pretty happy with that number given the experience of the year.”
A drop in enrollment has been nearly universal for postsecondary schools amid the coronavirus crisis, but NCC’s numbers look better with billable credit hours — the courses that bring revenue into the college — with only a 2.49 percent drop.
“Again, we don’t like to see the drops; we never do,” Hartog said. “But given the circumstances, we’re continuing to move forward in light of that.”
The new president presented the annual information during the NCC board of trustees meeting on Aug. 23.
Longtime trustee Leroy Van Kekerix asked how the dips in enrollment compare to the rest of Iowa’s community colleges, and Hartog said he is communicating with other presidents to begin comparing notes.
The Iowa Department of Education’s report also included high marks for NCC, a perennial well-reviewed school in the Hawkeye State. While enrollment still holds the college near the bottom of the pack, program quality remains the school’s calling card.
NCC’s accolades among the 15 Iowa community colleges included:
- Lowest student loan default rate at 8.5 percent, almost half the average ratio.
- Highest share of students taking at least one online class at 83.2 percent.
- Highest graduation rate at 60.7 percent, dwarfing the 37.1 percent state average.
Hartog spent extra time talking about noncredit training. This type of job enrichment helps improve the skills of workers in area businesses, especially those in manufacturing and other related industries.
The official boundaries of the NCC district — Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola and Sioux counties, plus about half Cherokee County — account for a relatively small number of Iowans. With a fairly small amount of ground to cover, the college penetrates more than any other schools in Iowa with 13.2 percent of citizens served by a NCC noncredit training.
“That means we’re touching a ton of lives,” Hartog said.
When for-credit job programs are taken into account — courses that go toward an accredited certification — NCC ranks second statewide in trained workers per capita.
Board member Larry Hoekstra closed the conversation praising the school for finding success in its rural corner of the state.
“It’s because we are accessible and affordable,” Hoekstra said.