Quad City Times
September 27, 2011
By Kay Luna
Visiting a classroom full of political science and business students on Tuesday, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she was curious: How many of those students plan to transfer to a four-year university after finishing their studies at Black Hawk College in Moline?
More than half raised their hands. That’s what Simon likes to see, she said, explaining that she’s traveling around the state and talking to people about the value of completing their college degrees.
“It makes our state more valuable,” she said. “Education is just a great investment in general. People with educations are going to earn more money, be healthier and happier over their lifetimes.”
Tuesday’s visit was Simon’s 35th stop on her “Complete College Tour,” traveling to the Quad-Cities to meet with Black Hawk faculty, staff and students for a roundtable discussion. The lieutenant governor, a former professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law and daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, said she is looking for ways colleges are helping students finish their educations on time and with less debt.
As the governor’s point-person on education reform, Simon then visited a classroom and toured the campus.
Simon said she plans to visit all 48 community colleges in the state and then prepare a report to deliver this spring to the Legislature about what the schools do well and what they need to do better.
She is concerned about getting more students enrolled in college across the state and that schools do things with “greater efficiency,” she added.
“The transitions between high school and community college and community college and four-year institutions are an area we can see some improvement,” she said, talking about how about half of Illinois’ community college students aren’t ready for college-level math after high school. “That discourages folks, and that’s a potential barrier I’d rather see us do without.”
After her visit to Black Hawk, Simon complimented the college on its Summer Bridges program, which is designed to help bring remedial students up to college-level work in time for fall courses.
The lieutenant governor announced earlier this year that Illinois leaders want to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
At Black Hawk, fall enrollment is down by 2 percent from 5,955 students to 5,834 students districtwide.
Simon said she is concerned about that downward trend across the state, blaming the economy for some of the losses.
Responding to a student’s question about her own college programming, Simon said Illinois’ budget crisis means there are going to be state funding cuts all over, but two priorities for funding remain: early childhood education and MAP grants for college students.
A lot of people are going to “feel a pinch,” she said.
Political science instructor Joan Eastlund and business instructor Gwen Johnson merged their classes for Simon’s visit, calling it a great learning experience for students to meet a state figure.
“It’s not an opportunity you get every day of the week,” Eastlund said.
Student Melodie Hill, 25, of Colona, Ill., said she didn’t know much about Simon before her visit but thought it was neat that she’s visiting community colleges across the state.
“If you learn nothing else in political science class, I hope you learn participation works,” Simon told the students. “It gets the job done. The more participation, the better direction we go in the state.”