June 28, 2011
By Brett Rowland
CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College officials shared success stories and stumbling blocks with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon when she toured the Crystal Lake campus Monday.
Simon took part in a discussion with MCC administrators, staff and students on what community colleges are doing to get more students to graduate and attain degrees and certificates.
They also talked about how to get high school students better prepared for the rigors of college coursework and how the state can help community colleges to produce more graduates.
At the request of Gov. Pat Quinn, Simon is in the process of touring the state’s 48 community colleges as part of an effort to boost the number of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent. Now, about 41 percent of working-age adults have those credentials.
MCC President Vicky Smith told Simon that the state could assist by ensuring that community college courses transfer to public four-year colleges in Illinois, cutting the red tape required to start new credit programs, and better aligning high school curriculum with college standards. More money also would help, but Smith wasn’t optimistic about those prospects in light of the state’s budget.
“Five years ago, the state funding for McHenry County College was 23 percent of the revenue stream,” Smith said. “This year, it was 4.3 percent.”
Simon took notes throughout the discussion, occasionally asking questions about what programs at the college were working.
Although she couldn’t promise additional state funding for community colleges, Simon said she would be working to make sure that the dollars colleges get are better spent.
“I wish I came here with a check,” she said. “But if we can ... get more people arriving at community colleges ready to do college-level work, then we are going to be spending our resources more wisely.”
More than half of MCC students have taken developmental math rather than college-level math courses in the past five years. It’s a trend Simon has seen throughout the state. In Illinois, 21 percent of students enrolled in at least one remedial class last year.
Panel members such as Coy McQueen, a graduate of MCC’s Fast Track program, highlighted the positive impact MCC has had on the community. McQueen started at MCC in 2000 when he was promoted to a plant manager position at a manufacturing company.
His success in the classroom had a direct effect on the company’s bottom line.
“In 11 years, we were able to drive the value of the stock from $7 a share to $42 a share,” he said. “And we increased our sales from $5 million to $12 million a year.”
McQueen since has gone on to get both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
Not all students finish. Nearly one-third of students statewide leave community college without completing a program or transferring to another school, according to statistics from the Illinois Community College Board. Those are numbers both Smith and Simon want to see change.
“It is my vision for McHenry County College to be the leading community college in Illinois,” Smith said. “Leading in the number of students who complete their certificates and degrees; leading in the quality of the educational experiences students enjoy; leading in the strategic partnerships in which the college engages; and leading in establishing programs that will enhance the economic viability of the county.”