Before the November elections, our Iowa Valley Community College District leadership team met with each of the candidates to discuss critical issues that have an impact on our ability to deliver the necessary services to our stakeholders. We tied these conversations to the Governor's key initiatives of bringing several thousand better paying jobs to Iowa and creating a skilled Iowa workforce.
Now that the elections are over, the 2013 General Assembly will challenge our legislators to tackle the issues that currently inhibit the state's ability to grow jobs and ensure sustainability to our local economies. Undoubtedly, much of their time and attention will be spent on important and necessary discussions about K-12 education reform. However, if we are going to make comprehensive improvements to Iowa's education system, there also must be serious conversations about the 240,000 Iowans who never earned a high school diploma and who now find themselves unemployed or underemployed. According to the 2006-2010 estimates from the U.S. Census American Community Survey data, 26.2% of young adults (aged 18-24) have less than a high school diploma in Marshall County alone.
Iowa's community colleges are the sole providers of the Adult Basic Education (ABE) programming that offers these individuals the opportunity to earn a GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma. The GED is the required credential that serves as a stepping stone to higher education and job training, which greatly enhances their chances of finding better jobs and earning higher wages. At a time when our leaders are focused on job creation, and local employers consistently tell us they cannot find enough people with the skills they need to fill all of their job openings, addressing ABE/GED needs couldn't be more important or timely. Unbelievably, Iowa is the only state in the nation with no funding support for ABE.
A quote in a recent Des Moines Register article clearly echoed the message we delivered to our area legislators before the elections: "Education attainment, or lack thereof, is the issue and it's poised to single-handedly decide Iowa's economic future and whether Iowans will enjoy greater prosperity and a better quality of life." For thousands of Iowans, turning to their local community college and attaining a GED is the critical first step. State funding of ABE/GED programs should be a priority in the next legislative session for all of the obvious reasons.