"It has been a fascinating tour," Simon said. "We've asked these nosy questions of all the community colleges . . . we are finding how each school has its own niche."
Simon said the tour is shining "a spotlight on community colleges as the best way to get folks a higher level of education."
She is the point person for Gov. Pat Quinn's education reform effort.
The goal in Illinois is by 2025 to have 60 percent of working-age adults holding a four-year degree, a certificate or associate's degree.
"We feel it's something that makes our population valuable and employable to the workforce," Simon told a roundtable of college officials, business and community leaders, politicians and students. "(The goal) is not unreachable. Right now, we are about 41 percent. We're ahead of other states."
The tour, she said, is allowing her to find out how "we can improve . . . how we can do better."
Simon will then report to Quinn and the legislature.
In addition to learning about the various programs offered at each of the state's community colleges, Simon also wanted answers in four specific areas: What the school is doing to improve completion rates; what the school is doing to connect students with the workforce; how the school is measuring the success of its workforce and completion initiatives; and what completion challenges does the school face that would benefit with state assistance.
Carl Sandburg College President Lori Sundberg came ready with the answers, providing more than 20 pages of descriptions about programs and initiatives the college has undertaken to improve everything from the student's readiness to move on to get a four-year degree to tracking every penny available to spend on educational efforts during an uncertain funding time.
In addressing student readiness - not just for completion for a four-year degree but simply beginning course work at Sandburg - Sundberg said for some students there's a disconnect between what they learned in the kindergarten through 12th grade environment to their arrival at the college.
A new program beginning this spring will be a first step in bridging that gap.
The college recently was awarded a $10,000 grant to develop a Bridge Program for Developmental (preparatory) Course work. The grant provides for one program of study to be developed which will transition students from preparatory course work to college-level course work to a career program. Sandburg has chosen health sciences to be the program.
Sundberg said they also have begun testing high school juniors in their fall semester to gauge how high schools can better prepare students in the time they have left in high school to transition to a college situation, academically.
In addition to the roundtable exchange, Simon took a tour of the campus and some of the programs and offerings, such as the energized labs for the radiologic technology program, tutoring center, College of Nursing and the Harvesting Dreams program.