Plans for Ashford campus

Clinton wants Iowa's first STEM school

CLINTON, Iowa - Nearly a year after Ashford University graduated it's last class, plans for the revitalization of the campus are in full swing. 
 
The plan is to put Iowa's first STEM academy on the property, using the already existing campus.  
 
"It does more than just fill the hole that Ashford left," said President and CEO of the Clinton Regional Development Agency Mike Kirchhoff. "I think it provides an opportunity to to shine Clinton's star, to polish it's image: Home of the Iowa STEM Academy."
 
"I have been really encouraging this opportunity here for economic development and some education opportunities for the STEM area and for career technology," said Senator Rita Hart (D-Clinton). "To offer programming that will fill that skilled worker shortage we keep talking about here in Iowa."
 
The school would cater to high school students. The top 1% of students in the state of Iowa would be able to competitively apply. The secondary enrollment would come from out-of-state and international students, who would pay thousands in tuition. 
 
Not only would it be the first school of it's type in Iowa, but it would be the first STEM academy in the United States to have a focus on agriculture and biosciences. 
 
The preliminary research showed a need for a STEM high school in the state. When Ashford owned the property, they invested millions into the campus, including into the science labs. 
 
"We have a real gem here, a real asset," said Kirchhoff. "It's a plug and play educational facility. All of the equipment is there from the basketballs in the gym to the soup spoons in the kitchen."
 
Kirchhoff is also expecting big economic impacts to the area. 
 
"Any time we work to attract a company into the community, there's the impact of the direct jobs associated with that project and the investment in the project," said Kirchhoff.  "Then on top of that that money ripples through the economy in what we call the multiplier effect."
 
Students across the state who perform in the top 1% in math and science would be able to apply for admission. Out-of-state and international students would be able to compete as well. The tuition from the out-of-state and international students would range between $30,000-$50,000. Kirchhoff says the expected income would offset the cost of the school. 
 
He also says he is expecting a direct impact on area companies. 
 
"There would be two angles, both college track and non-college track, or vocational," said kirchhoff. "They do feed right into the workforce needs of our local companies."
 
There are also hopes for the community colleges in the area to possible start a partnership with the school. Kirchhoff has been working with both Clinton High School and Prince of Peace Catholic School, and he says there will be benefits to both. 
 
The non-profit group Clinton Catalyst, LLC bought the properties in late 2015. Kirchhoff says the support from the non-profit, corporate support, and state support is showing promise.
 
"If there is anyone more supportive of STEM than Governor Terry Branstad, it's Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds," said Kirchhoff.
 
Although he says he is confident the state will support the project, he says the time is not right for funding from the state due to their current education funding issues. 
 
"We're working very closely with the state of Iowa because there is some need for state level funding."
 
The next step for the project is research. The property will be evaluated for it's ability to be converted into a residential high school. There will also be a more specific business plan and timeline laid out. 
 
"That's the vision," said Hart. "Lots of pieces have to be put together to make that happen but there are good people trying to work together to make it become a reality."
 
Kirchhoff says that after the lumber baron era, Clinton reinvented itself to be a manufacturing city. After that, it was reinvented to the technological era. He sees this as the next chapter for the city. 
 
"Clinton is re-imagining itself and repositioning itself and reinventing itself for the future."

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