May 10, 2011
Harrisburg, Ill. — In the midst of touring flood-ravaged areas in southernmost Illinois, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon stopped in Monday morning for a visit to the campus of Southeastern Illinois College.
The event was part of Simon's series of visits to each of the state's community colleges - a promise she made shortly after her inauguration and in tandem with a goal of increasing the statewide percentage of adults holding high-quality degrees from its current 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
Simon said there was a parallel between the ongoing flood relief efforts and the work done by community colleges throughout the state in a time of tight budgets and delayed payments.
In times of discussion of reducing budgets, public employees have come up on the firing line - literally and figuratively at times. But Simon noted, "It's public employees who have been putting in 20-hour days before dropping over on a pile of sandbags....
"Today in Shawneetown I talked to workers from DeKalb and Menard counties.... When it's needed, people come together, and we acknowledge that this happens in higher education."
Simon's day began with a meeting with SIC Board of Trustees and cabinet members. SIC President Jonah Rice touted the college's recent inclusion among the top ten percent of community colleges nationwide, while other officials explained the college's commitment to student needs through intense, one-on-one counseling, advisement, student support and tutoring services.
The group then moved to the Robert I. Gregg Technology Center for a discussion on several of the college's career and technical education programs, including on-line learning, nursing and diesel technology.
Several SIC officials noted that movements to make funding for colleges more performance-based should take into consideration that models for judging performance should be flexible - given that the mission of community colleges included not only certificate, degree and transfer-seeking students, but also community members taking one or two classes for enrichment purposes, or doing so to pick up a skill or discipline for their jobs, which might not necessarily require a degree.
Simon encouraged the SIC community to stay informed on legislation regarding performance-based funding, and she backed the sentiment that not all higher-education institutions can be judged with 100 percent equality.
"We had a statewide retreat sponsored by the Gates Foundation where we discussed this," Simon said. "Many colleges and even universities have different missions; the mission of SIU Carbondale is not the same as that of U of I."
Simon added that her tour of community college was about finding out-of-the-box ways of conducting business that could be spread throughout the system.
"One message we want to give is that we don't have all the answers under the capitol dome."
"We were so glad to host Lt. Gov. Simon today," said Rice. "It's incredible to have such support for the mission of community colleges coming from our elected officials in Springfield, such as the office of the governor and lieutenant governor."