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Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon visits SIC, hears from school officials 

The Daily Register
May 10, 2011
By Eric Fodor

SIC — Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon toured Southeastern Illinois College Monday and learned about the college's programs and goals.

During the tour, she met with the Board of Trustees, SIC President Jonah Rice, several faculty and staff and spoke at a public presentation.

One goal set out by Gov. Pat Quinn is increasing the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent from 41 percent by 2025, Simon said. Making sure students finish their coursework is an important part of reaching that goal.

SIC could make a good case study for completion of programs - the school was recently named one of the top 10 percent of community colleges across the United States by the Aspen Institute for success in retention and completion by students, Rice said.

The state's lofty goals are balanced by budget realities. Quinn has proposed a "flat" budget for higher education. The Senate and House versions of the new budget could include deeper cuts.

Simon said she is touring all of the state's community colleges to find out what is working and what isn't. Apparently, lots of things are working at SIC.

"I think in general community colleges are not acknowledged as they should be for their role in education in the state." Simon said.

Simon learned from staff and administrators SIC has an above-average full-time instructor-to-student ratio; smaller class sizes than universities and even many other community colleges; high-quality counseling and student support services; one-on-one contact between faculty and students; and an early intervention system to help students who are missing classes.

An advantage SIC has is one-on-one contact and keeping track of students, especially early in the semester, government instructor Matt Lees said.

The diesel technology program was presented as one of several successful programs at SIC. Job placement for students of the program is at 95 percent, Ralph Boots said.

"Our students know we have good places for them to go to work," Boots said.

Diesel technology instructors work closely with Peabody, Fabick-Caterpillar and other companies to place students. Fabick-Caterpillar even sponsors scholarships at the school, Boots said.

The program is the only one of its kind at an Illinois community college.

Like many colleges, SIC has to work with some potential roadblocks for students looking to get a degree or certificate. Over 60 percent of high school students who took a spr4ing 2011 placement test placed into developmental math, meaning they need to take remedial classes to get caught up to college-level work. Remedial classes cost money, take up time and don't count toward a student's degree. New grants have allowed the college to hire a "student success facilitator" to provide instruction when needed to ensure students don't fall behind on basic skills.

Rice raised concerns about performance-based funding, which has been the subject of talk in education circles. SIC administrators are not opposed to performance-based funding, but they want to make sure community colleges have a say in how such a funding approach would work, Rice said.
Community colleges have different goals than universities, so performance cannot be measured in the same way.

Simon advised the Board of Trustees and Rice to watch a performance-based funding bill introduced in this legislative session carefully. How to measure performance is a problem for proponents of performance-based funding, she said.

"We need to measure success by what the students want to get out of it rather than what we think they ought to get out of it," Simon said.