WATERLOO — Students taking college classes at the Waterloo Career Center will be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in three programs while paying no more than two years of tuition after high school.
Waterloo Community Schools, Hawkeye Community College and the University of Northern Iowa announced a new partnership Monday at the career center called Cedar Valley Degree Links. It will allow students to complete the first year of a degree at the center tuition-free before moving onto the other two institutions.
“We are signing this agreement with three programs – construction, manufacturing and graphic technology,” said Waterloo Schools’ Superintendent Jane Lindaman during the announcement event. “Our students and others who come here, the path is going to be really clear for them.”
Students would take another three to four years at Hawkeye and UNI to complete a bachelor’s degrees, depending on the length of the program. That would be one less year than usual after high school. In the case of a five-year degree, students would spend two years at Hawkeye to earn an associate’s degree and two years at UNI to complete a bachelor’s degree.
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Hawkeye tuition for both construction and manufacturing degrees would be free through the Iowa Last Dollar Scholarship, a program that funds community college education in high-need areas. The Hawkeye credits in all three programs will seamlessly transfer to UNI.
“Ultimately, we are preparing students to enter the workforce earlier while keeping them in our community,” said HCC President Todd Holcomb, noting Iowa businesses need skilled workers to fill positions across the state. “Hawkeye remains committed to address our workforce needs.”
“This is a very important project for us,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “We’re going to help them define their educational goals.” He added that providing access to education will help participants reach professional and personal goals, as well.
“So, it’s a really unique opportunity and I’m really proud to be at an institution that recognizes the opportunity,” said Nook.
He noted that students can decide as they earn credentials, college credits, and degrees how far they want to go with the program. Even if they don’t earn bachelor’s degrees in construction management, manufacturing technology or graphic technology the skills they’re gaining will provide career possibilities.
The university has a nearly 100% job-placement rate in its fast-growing construction and manufacturing degree programs, according to a news release, and sees many students hired with starting salaries in excess of $60,000.
No other partnership like this exists in Iowa between higher education institutions and a kindergarten through 12th-grade school system.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer thing,” said Lindaman. Still, “it feels so amazing to be the first K-12 program that gets to be a part of this alignment.”
The career center, which opened in 2016 with 37 students in two programs, had 18 programs and about 1,800 students during the past year. Students from seven other public school systems and three private schools can enroll in classes there, as well. It is located at 1348 Katoski Drive in the same building as Central Middle School.
Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, also spoke at the event.
“These partnerships are exactly what we need to rethink how we do school and what we think about opportunities – and what that means for our kids and our communities,” she said. “So, I am more than thrilled to promote this partnership.”
Holcomb noted that the state is funding a college and transition counselor at the career center starting this fall that will help students as they consider such opportunities, including the Cedar Valley Degree Links program.
Lindaman said a new initiative being launched in the fall will begin preparing students as early as kindergarten to think about their post-high school future.
“Waterloo Schools has a huge mission in the state of Iowa to have a K-12 career development process,” she said. Students will focus on components of self awareness, interests and aptitudes, career planning, and work experience over the years as they go through school. “The Waterloo Career Center is just a piece of that career development.”
Lindaman and Nook noted that they expect Cedar Valley Degree Links to continue adding programs into the partnership during future years.
“I think the most important thing is this is just the beginning,” said Nook. “In many ways, it’s a pilot that I really hope gets much, much bigger.”