WATERLOO — Waterloo Community Schools has aggressively expanded its career programs during the past three years, and students have responded.

The Waterloo Career Center started in the fall of 2016 with two programs and 37 students. Next fall, as it begins a fourth year, 14 career and technical education programs will be in place – including five new ones. Enrollment has skyrocketed since the initial digital graphics and health science programs were first offered.

Enrollments grew to 57 students for the spring of 2017. The next year, with three more programs, there were 270 enrollments.

During the current year, the center had 515 enrollments with nine programs available. That included 228 for fall semester and another 287 for spring semester. A student could be counted more than once depending on the number of classes taken.

“As of today, 1,308 students are registered for next year,” Jeff Frost, Waterloo Schools’ executive director of professional education, told the Board of Education recently. “That does not include any other districts. Enrollment is growing very quickly.”

The career center, located at the north end of Central Middle School, is open to public and parochial high school students in the Waterloo district. The board has signed agreements with other school districts allowing their students to enroll, as well. By next fall, that will include the Cedar Falls, Hudson and Dike-New Hartford community schools.

Frost said the average number of enrollments per program demonstrates the growing interest in the career center. For the current year that’s 31.9. Registration at this point for next year “takes us to an average of about 93.4 students per program.”

He noted that actual enrollment each semester outpaces spring registrations.

To accommodate the growth, a $13.34 million construction project got underway in January 2018 to expand the space available for programs. Originally, classroom and lab space was located in unoccupied space on the first floor. Expansion to the second floor last fall displaced sixth grade and music classrooms, which were moved to available space in the middle school portion of the building.

Included in the construction is a new front entryway that will help to make the career center distinct from the middle school. “Construction is going great,” said Frost, noting it’s on pace to be done by June 30.

New programs will include culinary, hospitality, electrical construction trades, financial services and plumbing technician. The eight existing programs at the center are advanced manufacturing, digital graphics, digital interactive media, health science, information technology, marketing management, sustainable construction and design, and web programming and development. The ninth program, early childhood education, is located at the Elk Run Preschool building.

Students are earning concurrent Hawkeye Community College credit in most cases, although three of the new programs next fall will be through Kirkwood or Des Moines Area community colleges. Frost said that is because Hawkeye doesn’t have “distinct” plumbing, electrician or finance programs. Programs are also designed so students can earn career certifications and credentials that can help them get a job or will be required as they seek further training in a field.

Frost noted that students had earned 408 national certifications by the end of fall semester, a number expected to grow beyond 1,000 by the last day of school in early June.

In addition, two students were involved in pre-apprenticeships related to some of the programs this year and the district is working to set up registered apprenticeships. A total of 16 businesses are currently partnering with the career center in various ways, and more are interested.

“Students are discovering it’s a huge competitive advantage,” Frost said of the taking classes at the center. He suggested that is true whether they’re “going on to four-year, two-year (education) or on to a career right away. What we’re doing out there is really, really good for students.”


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