Published Monday, July 15, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:36 pm
community college demand
World-Herald editorial: Metro CC’s numbers see huge growth

It was already well known that Metropolitan Community College has been taking on ever-greater responsibilities in helping meet the educational needs for the Omaha-area economy. Now, new figures provide striking proof of just how great that increase has been.

Over the past 10 years, Metro saw its annual number of graduates grow from 777 to 1,879 — an increase of 141 percent.

That’s remarkable growth in the demand for Metro’s services, and it well exceeds the 10-year increase for any other taxpayer-funded institution of higher learning in Nebraska over the past decade.

The 141 percent hike that Metro saw in its annual degree awards over the past decade compares with these increases for other institutions: Nebraska community colleges as a whole, 49 percent; the University of Nebraska campuses, 31 percent; and the State College System, 15 percent.

It’s important for Omaha-area residents and leaders to understand the dramatic growth at Metro and how the college has met that need while maintaining sound planning and budget policy.

Over the 10-year period, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln saw its annual degree awards grow by 30 percent; the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 46 percent. Southeast Community College, the state’s second-largest community college, saw its degree awards increase over the 10 years by 13 percent.

Among private institutions, Bellevue University saw a large increase of 127 percent over the 10 years. Creighton’s increase was 42 percent.

These figures come in a new report from the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Marshall Hill, the commission’s executive director, says that Metro’s 141 percent increase in its number of annual graduates is a “very important measure” and shows the “consistent and impressive improvement” Metro has made in meeting local demand.

It is notable, Hill says, that about 80 percent of Metro’s awards in 2011-12 were associate’s degrees rather than shorter-term diplomas and certificates.

Over the past decade, Metro’s general fund budget (funded by tuition, a property tax levy and state funding) has increased by 92 percent, going from $51 million in fiscal 2003 to $98 million in fiscal 2012.

That hasn’t meant a doubling of the college’s levy rate, though. From 2003 to 2012, the levy rate went from 6.4 cents to 8.5 cents, an increase of 33 percent.

Metro, says the college’s president, Randy Schmailzl, has devoted great energy to “modernizing our curriculum” and honing programs to meet the demands of students and the workplace.

“It’s an across-the-board effort to change how Metro provides education,” he told The World-Herald.

This summer, Metro will make a joint presentation with the Avenue Scholars program and UNO about their collaborative work to help disadvantaged youth make the transition from high school to college. The presentation will be at the national conference of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

Metro has about 40 articulation agreements enabling students to transfer credit to UNO.

Across the Missouri River, Iowa Western Community College has placed particular emphasis in recent years on boosting enrollment. The college awarded 919 degrees in 2010. That’s up 33 percent from 2009 (when it awarded 689 degrees) and 47 percent from 2003 (when 622 degrees were presented).

Iowa Western has been energetic on a number of fronts in boosting enrollment since 2007, says the college’s president, Dan Kinney. Those efforts have included new programs of study and significant building construction.

As for the future, Kinney said, Iowa Western is focusing on boosting student preparedness, especially in science, math and technology; helping more students make it through to completion rather than dropping out; and expanding GED services.

The demand for the Omaha area’s community colleges is striking. So is the colleges’ responsibility to continue to meet that need through sound management and long-term planning.

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