March 21, 2011
By David Pollard
Sheila Simon wants to see more community college students graduate, so the lieutenant governor is taking her message on the road to each of the state's 48 two-year colleges.
On Monday, she visited Triton College in River Grove, the fifth stop on her tour.
"Illinois is serious about increasing college completion," Simon said.
The state wants to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to increase from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025. The goal is to have a population ready to get jobs and attract industry by being a highly skilled and certified workforce.
Triton's 17,000 students has a completion rate of about 19 percent.
Triton College President Patricia Granados said the biggest obstacles community college students face are staying in school and not having their credits transfer to four-year institutions.
Another setback, she said, is that graduating high school students who enroll at Triton are not ready for college-level classes and have to take extra classes, especially in reading and math.
She showed Simon how Triton is trying to help those students strengthen their reading and math skills through its Student Support Services Department and Technology Resource Center
Granados also spoke about the partnerships Triton has with local elementary schools to get students at young age planning for college.
Simon toured the college's Hospitality Industry Administration, which places about 95 percent of its graduates in restaurant and hotel industry. She liked the strides the school has made.
"I'm impressed with their culinary program and their success rate," she said. "The students are sticking with it and going into some fantastic jobs."
One obstacle that has kept community colleges from doing more is state funding, which has been sporadic and slow. Simon believes this will change.
"We're going to do better by community colleges," Simon said.
Granados said she hopes Simon's visit to Triton will help.
"We need support financially for our culinary arts program, which has grown 30 percent," Granados said. "Our nurses program has a high demand but it is an outdated facility."
"I believe she got a strong sense that we have very collaborative learning spaces and we're working in teams," she said.
After Simon completes her tour of community colleges, she plans to present her findings to the state legislature.
"We do a good job on college accessibility, but we need to improve course, certificate and degree completion. We want more students who walk in the door of community colleges, to walk across the stage at graduation and into an Illinois workplace," Simon said in a prepared statement.