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Innovation Interview: Eastern Iowa Community College

Lane & Waterman’s Innovation Interviews highlight the unique and innovative work our clients do in the community. Our conversation this week took us to the Scott Community College’s Urban Center in downtown Davenport. We talked with Dr. Don Doucette, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges Chancellor, about the urban campus project and how the community colleges are adapting to meet today’s students’ needs.

Why did the EICC decide to construct a new urban campus?

We knew that we were underserving the urban population. We don’t have science labs in our current facility downtown, and it’s an hour or more one-way bus ride to our Belmont location. The new urban campus will be a full-service location and consolidate our two downtown locations. Consolidating the locations to one central place also affords us the opportunity to renovate the Kahl building into market-rate apartments that will generate revenue to support programming for students.

Of course, essential to all of this is building something cutting edge that will attract students to the college. The project transforms two unused buildings into a modern facility where people will want to come and learn and contributes to the economic vitality of downtown Davenport.

What trends in higher education, particularly with community colleges, dictate how you offer programs to students?

Since their inception in the 1960’s, community colleges have tended to have a stigma of being a lesser institution than their four-year counterparts. They grew into prominence by focusing on access. To that point, nearly half of all undergraduate enrollment in the US is in community college credit programs. However, focusing on access led to poor success and completion rates. The Lumina Foundation has supported tackling this issue with their “Achieving the Dream” initiative, which leads institutions like ours in decision making. “Achieving the Dream” tells us that offering mandatory orientation improves success rates. So we started doing that. Another learning is that time is the enemy of completion, so we adjusted many course offerings to be eight weeks instead of 12 or 16. In doing so, we decrease chances of students dropping out due to family circumstances, work issues, or health challenges.

We also pay attention to choice –too many choices can be confusing, especially to first-generation students, and lessen completion rates. Whenever possible, we try to construct tracks for students to follow and group the student into cohorts. This typically works better for the career and technical programs, but it informs how we think about the other programs as well.

How does community collaboration play a role in your institutional priorities?

The construction of the Urban Campus has led to some unique collaborative efforts. One we’re very excited about is our partnership with the Davenport Public Library. Instead of including a library in our new campus, we are providing funding to the downtown Davenport library to be open later so our students can utilize their facility.

Another partnership we have is with EON Virtual Reality. We have jointly developed an 11-month program and invested half of the costs of the technology to train students to be ready to work for EON or another tech company upon completion of the program. We are the only institution in the region offering a program like this.

At the end of the day, our number one priority is to improve the percentage of adults with post-secondary degrees in our community. This is a top priority for the Chamber of Commerce’s Q2030 regional vision and for the United Way’s community impact model. In adopting the community’s metric, we ensure we are working toward goals that the community values and needs.