'Change needed for college survival'
Buena Vista University's president Fred Moore is among 48 college and university leaders from across Iowa to sign a constitution this month establishing the Iowa Higher Education Initiative.
The brainchild of the Iowans for a Better Future program, the initiative aims to attract more out-of-state young people to attend Iowa colleges, and hopefully to stay in the state after graduation.
With a slight enrollment decrease on the BVU main campus in Storm Lake this fall and similar challenges statewide, a new strategy is needed to secure the futures of all of the state's campuses by making higher education a "growth industry," according to former Storm Lake resident Chuck Offenburger, who is chairing the higher education task force for Iowans for a Better Future.
A summit is being held this month in Des Moines, but due to scheduling difficulties, BVU apparently may be one of few schools in the state that will not participate.
Offenburger said that new national and international marketing and recruiting efforts are needed to target both potential students and their parents. "We want to spread the word like it's never been spread before, that the college experience in Iowa is excellent academically while also being more affordable, safe, personable and fun than nearly anywhere else," he said.
"By doing that, we can thus avoid the disaster that looms for higher education here with declining numbers of our own Iowa high school students - a drop since the 1960s of a fourth to a third of the number of high school seniors we are graduating every spring."
Iowa's48 colleges and universities have a collective economic impact of $3.6 billion per year in Iowa right now, according to the IBF group.
Offenburger said Iowa can connect students with business leaders as soon as they arrive on campus. " We want to convince them that Iowa is a great place to live, learn, work, play and stay. And we want to explain to them that they can become real leaders here - in business, community, churches, organizations and the state as a whole - much quicker than most other places."
The initiative has a first-year budget of $125,000, which is being raised privately from individuals, businesses and organizations that support higher education.
The September 26 "summit" could become a yearly celebration of higher education in the state, Offenburger said. He said that after the summit the group will take its efforts to the public all over the state.
"Iowans for a Better Future, in our six year history, has realized that what we are best at is that we are very good 'conveners,' who can bring people and organizations together, often across old battle lines, to address the serious issues facing Iowa - and then do something positive about them. That's what we're doing with the Iowa Higher Education Initiative, " Offenburger said.
"We think young people and their parents, across the U.S. and around the world, are going to become much more conscious of Iowa in the immediate future. Indeed, they will 'Think Iowa.'"