Three recent grants from the Iowa Department of Education are set to make a big impact on skill development, career exploration opportunities and college and career preparedness for students across the state.

Offered through the Department’s Bureau of Community Colleges and Postsecondary Readiness, three grant opportunities are helping expand career academies, grow Summer College Credit Programs and increase the number of College and Career Transition Counselor positions. Overall, each grant helps support increased access to higher education opportunities for students.

“We are pleased that we can provide innovative and diverse funding opportunities that help expand access and services for students,” said Jeremy Varner, Bureau of Community Colleges and Postsecondary Readiness chief. “With increased access to these various programs, students can better prepare for life after graduation and earn college credits, industry-recognized credentials and valuable professional skills.”

The seventh round of the Career Academy Incentive Fund awarded $806,000 total to two community colleges to increase access to high-quality career academy programs for high school students. Career academies engage students in career and technical education (CTE) programs that assist with postsecondary readiness and preparation for the workforce.  

“The Career Academy Incentive Fund truly opens the doors to higher education and in-demand careers for Iowa students,” said Heather Meissen, Department education consultant. “These opportunities link school districts, community colleges and local businesses and ensure that Iowa’s workforce is highly skilled and ready for success.”

Northwest Iowa Community College will use their $556,000 award to add an information technology-based career academy at the regional center in Sioux City. The funding will assist with remodeling two spaces for classes and purchasing equipment and furniture for computer labs and classrooms and will serve five public high schools and three nonpublic schools this fall.

Additionally, Indian Hills Community College received $250,000 to purchase equipment, supplies and furnishings that will support five career academies at the Hills West Regional Center in Centervillle. Career academies in agricultural sciences, construction technology, health sciences, industrial maintenance and welding will all receive funding support and will provide opportunities for seven Iowa school districts.

“The Career Academy Incentive Fund awards at least $1 million annually to support career academy partnerships between community colleges, schools, businesses and other community partners,” Meissen said. “The latest round of funding is now open through April 17, and we encourage these partnerships to apply for funding to develop new career academy opportunities or expand existing ones.”

Along with the Career Academy Incentive Fund, Meissen also coordinated the 2024 Summer College Credit Program (SCCP) grant, which provides opportunities for high school students to earn college credits in CTE programs during the summer months. Each participating community college will receive an initial grant award of $8,000 to start their 2024 programs. Additional funding will be dispersed to each community college depending on future enrollment in the programs.

Seventy-three unique courses for this summer have been approved and include high-demand career areas such as health care, applied sciences and information technology, among others.

Authorized in 2018 as part of the Future Ready Iowa Act and supported by a $600,000 state appropriation, SCCP expands student access to college-level coursework during the summer and promotes participation in high-quality CTE programs that align to state and regional in-demand occupations. This work supports Iowa’s statewide CTE improvement efforts and is in line with the Future Ready Iowa goal that calls for 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by the year 2025.

During the 2022-23 academic year, 1,863 high school students across the state earned college credit in SCCP. All 15 Iowa community colleges partner with local school districts to provide this opportunity, and demand for the program remains high with students.

“The Summer College Credit Program remains a popular and valuable opportunity for Iowa’s high school students,” Meissen said. “Students can get a jump start into their future careers by earning college credit in courses like certified nursing assistant and welding during the summer months.”

A grant supporting additional College and Career Transition Counselor (CCTC) positions will also help promote student success in Iowa schools. Through this opportunity, Iowa Central Community College and Indian Hills Community College each received $50,000 in start-up funds through the fourth round of CCTC grants.

“CCTCs work directly with students in grades 11-12 to support college transition and career exploration through targeted connections during crucial timeframes,” said Erica Woods-Schmitz, Department education consultant. “CCTCs are vital positions that can help high school students with everything from preparation, transition to enrollment and persistence through their postsecondary experience.”

For the 2023-24 school year, there are over 50 CCTCs across the 15 community college regions, serving students in over 100 high schools. The additional positions generated under this grant round increases the number of CCTCs and extends their support into additional high schools.

Opportunities like these help support Iowa’s school districts, community colleges, students and local communities, and this Department bureau plans to continue their support in future years. 

“Currently, these three grant opportunities are offered at least once per year,” Varner said. “We hope that schools and community colleges will continue to take advantage of these opportunities for their students and communities.”