January 20, 2012
By Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board
All you have to do is look at the 4.8 percent tuition increase approved by University of Illinois trustees on Thursday to see that community colleges are going to be more important than ever to Illinois’ future.
As costs at four-year institutions grow out of reach for more and more families, students from those families will turn to two-year colleges in even greater numbers.
We need to make sure those community colleges, the best of which are the pride of the state, are ready for them.
But, as Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon argues in a report released Thursday, all is not well at the two-year schools, where only one in five students graduate in three years.
Illinois needs community college graduates who walk away with a real education and job skills. Instead, too many students have little to show but debt for their college experience, the report says.
A big part of the problem, says Simon, is that too many students show up who are not ready for college-level work. Almost half of recent high school graduates in Illinois community colleges must take at least one remedial course, usually in math. As a partial cure for this, Simon wants students to take math all four years of high school, instead of just three.
But State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico sees signs of progress. Chico, who came to appreciate the problem of unprepared students when he was chairman of the City Colleges of Chicago, is responsible for the state’s kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools. In that role, he is instituting common-core standards at all schools to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college. Over time, Chico says, that will upgrade the caliber of students at community colleges and four-year schools.
This is one of those areas where failure isn’t an option.
As Chico says, “We get this right and our state is good shape for the future.”