Education leaders gathered at the Waterloo Career Center on Monday to announce a new partnership that will offer Waterloo high school students a more affordable path to a college degree in high-demand fields.

The agreement between the UNI, Hawkeye Community College and the Waterloo Community School District will help students earn multiple degrees in construction or manufacturing, both UNI programs with a nearly 100% job placement rate, in just four years while paying only two years of tuition.

“UNI provides all students a world-class education that prepares them for success in the workforce and in their communities,” said UNI President Mark A. Nook. “We are thrilled to partner with Waterloo Community Schools and Hawkeye Community College to give students flexibility while fully preparing them to enter some of our fastest-growing, most successful programs.”  

Cedar Valley Degree Links will allow Waterloo students to select a degree path in construction, manufacturing or graphic technology. The students can take classes at their high school and the Waterloo Career Center, completing the equivalent of a year of college tuition-free. 

They would then spend two years at Hawkeye Community College, earning an associate’s degree. Hawkeye tuition for both construction and manufacturing degrees would be free through the Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship program. 

Students could then complete their four-year degree at UNI in just two years. UNI is the only public university in the state to offer this program. 

 “The Cedar Valley’s ability to compete in a global economy is directly tied to having a talented and skilled workforce,” said Hawkeye President Todd Holcomb.  “Our partnership is a great example of how educational institutions can work together to create pathways to high-demand careers, get our students into the workforce, and keep our economy moving forward.” 

The new pathway provides students with a large degree of flexibility. Because they are earning degrees in high-demand fields, if students find employment after completing their A.A.S. degree at Hawkeye, they can finish college tuition-free. 

But they can also pursue a bachelor’s degree and their credits will seamlessly transfer to UNI. Admissions standards remain the same. Beyond its high job placement rate, UNI’s fast-growing construction and manufacturing degree programs sees many students hired with starting salaries in excess of $60,000.  

“The wins for students following this pathway are enormous,” said Waterloo Schools Superintendent Jane Lindaman. “We’re excited to be able to offer this opportunity.”

 The program will soon be expanded to include four-year bachelor’s degrees that can be earned in just three years.