Kirkwood should find new, smaller Iowa City location: consultant


HR King
May 29, 2001
Over the next 24 years, if nothing changes, Kirkwood Community College is on track to spend nearly $40 million maintaining its 97,094-square-foot Iowa City campus — which has a current classroom-use rate under 40 percent and saw a 75 percent enrollment decline between 2016 and 2021.

Given that makes little budgetary sense — especially in a post-pandemic age when many campuses are facing enrollment losses and fiscal challenges — Kirkwood earlier this year initiated a trio of consultants to study the Iowa City site.

The goal was to better understand the needs of students, employers and the broader community in making “informed decisions about the future of Kirkwood facilities in Iowa City.”


And the consultants have made their recommendation — Kirkwood should find another Iowa City site, downsize by more than two-thirds and recalibrate its course offerings.

“This concept creates the opportunity to find the appropriate amount of space and parking in a more centralized or easily accessible location of Iowa City with better multimodal access,” according to a final study report, produced by WSP USA, the Montreal-based professional services consultant Kirkwood engaged.

The appropriate size of a “New Iowa City Kirkwood Center,” according to the consultant’s analysis, would be about 30,000 square feet. That would shave 67,094 square feet off Kirkwood’s current Iowa City footprint, which is spread out across three buildings — a main credit center, annex and learning center.

According to the proposal, Kirkwood should find a property to lease that’s more accessible via the Interstate 80 corridor and includes “flexible space” for a wider array of career and technical courses in health care, industrial technology and information technology.

“The vast majority of credit courses currently offered in Iowa City are liberal arts courses,” according to the study, which noted Kirkwood’s liberal arts courses saw the biggest enrollment drops both pre-coronavirus from 2016 to 2019 and post-pandemic from 2020 to 2021.

“Given current market realities, a smaller footprint that more efficiently uses space, with improved agreements for sharing instructional space, and a floor plan to facilitate these benefits is recommended.”

The consultant based its recommendation on quantitative data and on a qualitative analysis of community feedback and stakeholder engagement — beginning in February with 19 focus group discussions involving faculty, staff, business executives and local leaders. The online survey in March went to hundreds of households in the Iowa City campus area — 346 of which completed at least some portion.

The survey revealed widely positive perceptions of Kirkwood — with nearly 80 percent giving the college either an “A” or “B” letter grade; a combined 58 percent reporting Kirkwood is either a somewhat or significantly better option than a four-year university; and 57 percent perceiving Kirkwood graduates as having equal qualifications as four-year university grads — with 20 percent finding them either somewhat or significantly more qualified.

When asked what respondents based their Kirkwood perceptions on, 38 percent said tuition costs, 26 percent said types of courses offered and 29 percent said quality of education.

Although student numbers and classroom use suggest the Kirkwood Iowa City model needs improvement, 94 percent of survey respondents “totally” agreed it is “essential that the Iowa City area has a high-quality community college.”

But experts argued something has to change — as Iowa City enrollment has plummeted from 16,382 in 2016 to 4,133 in 2021. Even before the pandemic, enrollment was slipping at the Kirkwood campus, falling 17 percent from 2016 to 2019.

Whilw ideal classroom-use rates are between 50 percent and 70 percent, Kirkwood’s Iowa City classroom use has dropped to as low as 23 percent in the annex and learning center.

Staying put​

Although the consultant leaned into the recommendation that Kirkwood leave its current location — and possibly lease out or sell that site — the final report also explored the option of staying and renovating.

That option — which comes with “the advantage of existing site control and the autonomy offered by ownership of the property” — would downsize the property to 82,379 square feet and renovate existing space, creating “focal gathering points” such as a study lounge and better bookstore.

Renovations to the main building would cost in the $5.5 million to $8 million range but wouldn’t solve the problem of access, according to the report.

“A number of concerns about the geographic location of the campus within Iowa City were raised during stakeholder engagement,” it stated.

The recommendation to move isn’t necessarily a perfect solution, either, the consultant noted.

“One of the challenges … includes finding the right leasable space,” according to the report. “This concept also would include remodeling costs once a space is selected.”

Anticipated remodeling costs of a new leased space range from $6 million to $8 million, “less any profit generated from sale or lease of the current Iowa City campus.”

A proposal for a new leased space dedicates the most — nearly 17,000 square feet — to health care and career and technical education flexible and lab space. It suggests 6,000 square feet for a student commons and 3,500 square feet for liberal arts curriculum.



HR Heisman
Jan 3, 2021
Finding online credit options is a big part of junior college success. The key for many 4 year university students being ONLINE to fill gaps.

building space demand will keep dropping.


HR Legend
Mar 2, 2009
Iowa City
Hmmm...I had no idea that their enrollment had dropped like that. Yikes. Overall, I have a very favorable impression of everything Kirkwood, but it sounds times are changing, at least for the IC campus.

Have there been similar enrollment changes in other CC locations? I am sure COVID is in there too, but it sounds like the decline was well under way prior to that mess. Is it just the move to on-line that is getting them?
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HR Legend
Sep 26, 2009
I used to teach Human Biology there in the early 2000's for extra cash. At that time, my classes were full as was that building. However, they've expanded way way too quickly. Look at their Coralville sarcophagus on Oakdale Blvd. Beautiful new building for taking a nice nap.
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