DeKalb Daily Chronicle
October 6, 2011
By Nicole Weskerna
MALTA – Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was wrapping up a tour of 48 Illinois community colleges when she stopped in Malta on Wednesday to chat with students, faculty and staff at Kishwaukee College.
Simon, who said she’s Gov. Pat Quinn’s point person on education, has been visiting campuses since February to see what challenges community colleges face, particularly when it comes to increasing the number of working-age adults who have a degree or certificate.
The state’s goal is to increase that total from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025. Simon said the U.S. used to lead in education, but it now ranks 12th in the world.
“Based on knowing what the job market’s going to be, it’s going to require a more able workforce,” Simon said.
During a roundtable discussion, Simon asked Kishwaukee College officials, students, faculty and staff members about the school’s accomplishments and what the state can do to help the college do a better job of increasing the number of graduates.
Tom Choice, president of Kishwaukee College, highlighted accomplishments such as the campus construction, a good working relationship with Northern Illinois University and partnerships with local school districts. He said the college has been able to influence curricula at local school districts to better prepare high school students for college.
Two-thirds of Kishwaukee College students are placed in developmental math courses, said Kevin Fuss, associate vice president for institutional effectiveness. He said 37 percent of students take a developmental English course while 30 percent take a developmental reading course.
The number of students taking a developmental course is what’s driving a project by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Kishwaukee College. Sebastian Dargatz, student trustee with the college’s board of trustees, said the organization is hoping to measure college readiness by surveying students about what they would have done differently to prepare for college.
Other faculty and staff members told Simon about the college’s manufacturing programs and its innovative program “Suter U” that caters specifically to The Suter Company’s workforce in Sycamore.
“It would be neat to reward companies like that that are working really hard to be innovative,” said Karen Schmitt, executive director for business development and continuing education.
Jean Kartje, vice president of instruction, said testing requirements tend to become roadblocks for teachers and students. She said instructors sometimes teach a certain way until testing time because tests call for a different method of working through problems.
“Little things like that confuse the student ... and frustrate the instructor,” she said.
After visiting three community colleges Wednesday, Simon’s tour is slated to wrap up today with a visit to Rock Valley College. After hearing success stories and concerns brought up during discussions, Simon said her report to the governor likely will focus on how to “blur the lines between college and high school,” to make sure students are ready for community college courses. But it won’t end there.
“Let’s consider this the beginning rather than the end of the conversation,” Simon said.