September 23, 2011
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain
JOLIET— Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is on a mission to help the state’s community colleges educate more Illinois residents.
On Thursday, she stopped at Joliet Junior College, the oldest community college in the nation. It was her 30th tour of 48 community colleges in the state.
Simon said she hopes her tour will help more people become aware of the opportunities available at their local community colleges.
“I’m enjoying being able to call a little attention to what’s going on that’s good in community college, and at the same time, looking at what we can do better,” she said.
At JJC, Simon toured the school’s award-winning culinary arts program and the popular nursing program. And Karl Brooks, JJC’s dean of student success, touted the new $42 million campus center, which provides one-stop shopping for enrollment, counseling, tutoring and financial aid.
“Thank you for the opportunity to show off,” said JJC board Trustee Susan Klen.
So far on her tour, Simon has discovered common statewide challenges. Those challenges need to be overcome if the state is going to meet its goal of increasing the number of working age adults who have degrees or certifications from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025, she said.
“If we have a better trained workforce, there’s not a guarantee that we’ll have the jobs there. But if we don’t have a well trained workforce, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’re not going to be attracting the jobs,” she said.
One challenge involves transfer students. Classes students take at community colleges must transfer to all four-year institutions, even private colleges, otherwise it’s “frustrating and not a good use of public funds,” Simon said.
Simon praised the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium, which JJC belongs to, for streamlining the transfer process from community colleges.
Another challenge involves high school students. They need to have core subject training to succeed in college instead of having to take remedial classes once they arrive on campus, she said.
Simon said the state funding of colleges needs to be adjusted. She favors a system that rewards student graduation or degree completion, rather than enrollment alone.
After she completes her tour in October, Simon said she would make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly in time for nest year’s legislative session.
“No matter how you look at it, we have some room to improve,” she said.