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Local college officials say they are collaborating to make college more affordable 


The Pantagraph
February 16, 2013
By Lenore Sobota

NORMAL — Local college officials say they already are doing many of the things outlined in a “white paper” issued by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon on college affordability and the need for greater collaboration among schools.

But they welcome further discussion of the ideas.

The white paper, issued this week, outlines what Simon describes as “game-changing reforms” and “innovative practices in Illinois higher education.” It is the outgrowth of a series of College Affordability Summits that Simon had last fall at all of the state’s 12 public universities, including Illinois State University in Normal.

“A lot of this is going on informally,” said Jonathan Rosenthal, ISU’s associate provost for undergraduate education.

Heartland Community College President Allen Goben said a newly signed agreement between Normal-based Heartland and Lincoln College, which smoothes the way for Heartland graduates to get bachelor’s degrees, is “a good poster child example” of the kind of collaboration recommended in Simon’s report.

Simon doesn’t intend to stop with issuing the white paper. She plans to bring together community college and university representatives this fall to share what has worked for them and see how it can be “scaled up” for other institutions.

Among ideas outlined in Simon’s report are:

  • Dual degree programs in which students simultaneously enroll in a community college and a university. Students start at the community college. When they transfer to the university, the tuition rate is the same as it would have been if they had started at the university.
  • Reverse transfer programs in which students who transfer to a university from a community college before completing their associate’s degree can use credits obtained at the university to earn their associate’s degree.
  • Intensive financial and academic advisement for at-risk students.
  • Ongoing financial advisement beyond the freshman year so students graduate with less debt.
  • Textbook rental programs.
  • Partnering to create paid internships.

Simon singled out ISU for praise for the work its Career Center does in seeking paid internships for students and making it a priority.“ISU and the devotion to internship programs is really impressive,” Simon said Friday. “It works not only for the school and the student but also for the businesses.”

Stacy Ramsey, ISU’s interim director of admissions, said the university already has a lot of students who take classes at both Heartland and ISU, although there is no formal dual enrollment program.Likewise, the university does reverse transfers with community colleges for any students who ask, if their community college is open to it, she said.

Rosenthal said, “We’ve talked a lot recently about beefing up that ongoing part” of financial advisement. A financial planning and management class soon will be offered to students as a general education course, he said.

He was less certain a textbook rental program like the ones used at Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville would work at ISU.“We did look into a rental program a few years ago,” he said. “There was a very, very huge overhead cost for us — millions of dollars.”