February 10, 2011
By Phyllis Coulter
BLOOMINGTON — Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon challenged Illinois community college presidents on Thursday to help increase the number of Illinois residents with college educations.
Two-thirds of all jobs in the future will require a college education, she said. “But at today’s pace, less than half our work force will ever achieve that level of education.”
Speaking Thursday to members of the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents at The Chateau Hotel and Conference in Bloomington, she outlined her goal of upping the percentage of working-age adults with a “quality” degree, diploma or other higher-education credentials from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
“This marks the beginning of ‘Sheila goes to college again’,” Simon said in announcing that she will visit each of the 48 community college campuses in Illinois.
She also invited college presidents to let her know what the state can do better. “I’m ready to listen to complaints,” she said, adding that she also will share good ideas she gathers from her “show-and-tell” college visits.
Community colleges have an “amazing ability” to serve the needs of local employers, she said. When a potential employer has an idea to expand and needs employees with certain skills, a college can train students to meet the needs. Schools play a major role in educating the work force and stimulating the economy, she said.
Part of the big picture is for schools at all levels to work together get students ready for the next step, she said.
Allen Goben, president of Normal-based Heartland Community College, agreed. He said Heartland is collaborating with area schools “to develop a strong plan for success.”
College presidents soundly applauded Simon, a former law professor at Southern Illinois University, when she gave examples of how community colleges have changed lives.
She spoke of one young man who lived on a tiny family farm without any particular future plans. “No one in his family had gone to college,” she said.
A high school counselor encouraged him to study auto mechanics at a community college. He enjoyed it so much he eventually became a college teacher himself.
Now Perry Knop is a political science professor and department head at John A. Logan College, a community college in Carterville.
He also has been Simon’s husband since 1987.
Simon, 49, said people of her generation had a pretty good record of getting college educations but that has trailed off. The United States was No. 1 but has fallen to 12th in the world in that measurement, she said.
The Democrat said she supported President Barack Obama’s efforts to recapture that top spot.
“This is really important stuff. This is one of the first things I want to do,” Simon said.