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ICCC: tax break for English-learners?

Thursday, October 18, 2001

As Governor Tom Vilsack proposes an income tax credit to Iowa college graduates who choose to stay in the state, the reaction on campuses around the state is enthusiastic. It is no different at Iowa Central Community College in Storm Lake.

"I think it is a very good alternative," said Dan Anderson, head of the Storm Lake ICCC campus. "In the economy we are looking at, anything that can be done to help people afford to become educated and get started in careers has to help."

The Storm Lake ICCC leader has an idea for Vilsack as well - extend a tax credit to adults who choose to take English as a Second Language classes in their communities.

"It would be great to provide an incentive for people coming through the ESL programs. We had 757 adult ESL students this past fiscal year, averaging 60 hours of study while they juggle family and jobs as well. I think there could be some kind of encouragement for the part-time student to learn to use the language better so that they can succeed. When they learn, they can advance in jobs, and in the long run the state would benefit in taxes."

In fact, the Storm Lake ICCC campus is about to debut new classes for ESL students who wish to advance on to a higher level of reading skills. Those who complete the course will be able to utilize college textbooks, for example, Anderson said.

Meanwhile, the governor's graduate tax credit plan stirs excitement at ICCC.

Anderson said he thinks such a tax credit could be marketed as an advantage by ICCC is recruiting students who might otherwise head to bordering states.

Under the Vilsack plan, students who graduate from a college in Iowa - whether a two-year or four-year college, public or private - and then stay and work in Iowa will be eligible for a tax reprieve. Graduates of a four-year college in Iowa such as Buena Vista University in Storm Lake would be eligible for a $600 credit each year for 10 years, for a total of $6,000. Students who graduate from community college such as Iowa Central with associates of arts, science, or applied science degrees will be eligible for a $200 per year credit for a total of $2,000 over ten years.

While the credit is lower for the two-year college student, the total credit compared to their tuition cost is twice as high as that for an Iowa regent university student, and five times as high as for an average Iowa private college student. Under the proposal, the tax credit is equal to almost 100 percent of tuition costs for community college graduates, according to the Governor's staff.

"I would think it would be very attractive to students. They are very aware of the costs associated with their education, and many are coming right out of high school to the Storm Lake campus of Iowa Central to start out and then transfer to a four-year university later," Anderson said.

"They want to get as many credits as they can inexpensively, even if it means coming here over their summer and Christmas interim of pick up classes, and the tax credit is one more incentive we could add to their financial package as we talk to a student about pursuing their education."

However, community colleges do not have the "brain drain" to the extent that has alarmed the governor. While Vilsack indicates that well over half of the graduates of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa leave the state to take jobs, Anderson said that 90 percent of ICCC graduates stay in the state to work and raise families.

The Storm Lake campus is experiencing a 2-3 percent increase in students for this fall, with about 500-520 students taking classes. "We saw big increases over the last 15-18 semesters, and we have saturated our area to the point where will will probably see it leveling off now," Anderson said.

"We teach the people who keep the hospitals running, the technology working, the buildings being built. It's great to see the state interested in retaining trained people who will work in Iowa and pay taxes in Iowa. If this proposal is approved, I think it will pay off over time," he said.



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