COUNCIL BLUFFS — American Sign Language won’t be taught at Iowa Western Community College after incoming and current students complete their degrees.
The college’s Board of Trustees voted Monday afternoon to eliminate the program, citing its cost, declining enrollment and the economics of the local labor market.
ASL interpreting has been offered at Iowa Western for almost 40 years, and it is the only program in western Iowa.
The board approved a teach-out plan, which will ensure that anyone going into or currently enrolled in the program can complete a degree.
This spring, the program had 32 full-time and 10 part-time students, said Marjorie Welch, vice president of academic affairs. The program graduated 14 students last year, she said.
The program is almost among Iowa Western’s most expensive, Welch said. The average cost per credit hour is $285.55, while the average is $164.52. It is the college’s third most expensive program, she said, and costs have gone up 63 percent in the past three years.
Demand for the program has faded, too, as fewer jobs are found by Iowa Western’s ASL graduates. The college doesn’t want to leave graduates with debt but unable to find a job using their degree, Welch said.
“These are not transferable skills,” she said.
Need for interpreters exists in some parts of the community, though, according to an official with the Iowa School for the Deaf, which is based in Council Bluffs.
ISD was not informed of the decision in advance, said Superintendent Steve Gettel, nor was it asked to provide feedback.
“This is a surprise,” he said. “There is a shortage, and we hire interpreters out of that program.”
The University of Nebraska at Omaha offers a bachelor’s degree in sign language interpretation. A UNO spokesman said the program has about 25 students pursuing degrees.
Metropolitan Community College in Omaha also offers an American Sign Language program. Its website says the program “transfers seamlessly into Iowa Western Community College’s Sign Language Interpreting Associate’s degree program” because more training is needed to be an interpreter.
Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University offer sign language classes, but neither offers an interpreter program, Gettel said.