When she sat down with college representatives, Simon started by saying that she was there to listen and learn about the school.
Simon announced earlier this year that Illinois leaders want to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent from 41 percent by 2025.
“We have enough students entering community colleges and universities in Illinois to have a world-class workforce, but too many students are dropping out before they earn the degree or certificate that makes a difference,” Simon said. “As a state, we need to do more to make sure more students who walk in the door of a college, walk out with a meaningful credential that leads to a good-paying job.”
Highland administrators highlighted its five-week Fast Forward summer bridge math program during Simon’s visit. Participating students can brush up on math skills with the hope of retaking a placement test and moving into a higher level of math. In its first year as a pilot program, 21 students participated. Fifteen of the students increased their placement score, and two students moved up two course levels upon completing the program. But more than just placing out of classes, officials said that it also helps prepare the students for the classes that they will face in college.
“While the college has long focused on initiatives designed to assist students seeking to complete certificates and degrees, the Fast Forward pilot program is likely to become the foundation for future work toward establishing a comprehensive transitional studies program to prepare developmental students for transferable college-credit courses,” Highland President Joe Kanosky said. “Efforts supporting students as they begin their program go a long way towards improving their chances of completion.”
HCC officials also noted their pursuit of creating online degree programs to offer part-time and rural students more opportunities to gain a degree.
They also noted a program geared toward African American men, who they saw a low retention rate for in studies. The program was designed to help the students adjust to college life. Since fall 2010, the program has seen retention rates and graduation rates go up. The school noted that it hopes to expand the program to reach many other students.
“(The program) was an eye opener,” a student told Simon during the meeting. “It gave me a different way of looking at things. This is a program that will stick with anyone.”
Highland representatives also talked to Simon about the school’s connection to Colombia College, which helps students complete bachelor’s degrees right on the HCC campus; Project Succeed, which offers a support system for first generation college students; the Honors program that helps students pursue interests that extend beyond the classroom; and the internship possibilities that the school has built with local companies — specifically involving the wind technician program.
And much was also talked about Highland’s connection to area high schools through the Certificate of Employability.
After the round table, Simon said she was impressed with HCC and noted the wind program “seems to be a leader in the field.”
Simon will end her 48 college tour today at Rock Valley College in Rockford. Simon intends to report her college findings to the Governor and General Assembly this winter.