CBJ Editorial 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions of higher education are facing some of the biggest challenges they have seen in generations.

Our higher education sector in the Corridor, particularly the University of Iowa, is a huge economic driver. But Kirkwood Community College, more than any other institution, embodies the region both geographically and economically.

This crisis might be another opportunity for Kirkwood to continue to grow and differentiate itself in a difficult economic climate. It appears that most institutions of higher education in the region will be teaching students in person in the fall rather than virtually. That’s a bit of good news.

According to Kirkwood Vice President of Academic Affairs Bill Lamb, while being on-campus will look different this fall, the college is doing everything it can to cater to the ever-changing needs of students.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on the plan to reopen our campuses in a safe and smart way,” Mr. Lamb said in a release. “Kirkwood has always adjusted to the needs of students, but what this virus has forced us to do is take an even deeper look at how we can help our students reach their goals on their terms. While we’re going to have to respect social distancing guidelines, I think students are going to be very pleased by the flexible options they will have at Kirkwood.”

The big question is what happens to the college experience when social interaction and student life aspects are stripped out and it becomes almost entirely classroom-focused or goes back to being virtual?

Ironic though it may seem, the reality is for generations, college has been defined by much more than just classroom learning. College athletics, fraternities and sororities, clubs and social activities are all part of a normal, full college life. Will families spend tens of thousands of dollars for a stripped-down college experience if COVID-19 continues?

One response some students have already chosen is to declare a gap year to wait and see. Another is to stay home from the four-year college and opt for classes from an institution like Kirkwood that is inexpensive by comparison.

Kirkwood has become a world-class community college over the past 15 years. While it does have many of the aforementioned social and student life activities, it doesn’t have its own dormitories. It has become primarily known for providing a great base of learning for those wanting to matriculate to a four-year institution or to go quickly into the working trades.

Another trend going for Kirkwood is that the demand for continuing education and workforce training tend to increase during times of economic challenges, as unemployed workers retrain for different careers, and young adults who are having difficulty finding jobs pursue a degree to improve their employability. This is Kirkwood’s bread and butter.

Many of our foundational economic entities in the Corridor are struggling financially, among them the University of Iowa, Collins Aerospace, ACT and the Eastern Iowa Airport. Amid all of this uncertainty, Kirkwood might be the bright spot, reminding us once again of the value of a strong community college. •