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Lt. Governor Simon tours Southland community colleges 

Aims to increase college completion, educate workforce

CHICAGO HEIGHTS – September 21, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon brought her Complete College Tour to Chicago’s Southland today to learn how local colleges and universities are working together to increase graduation and completion rates.

Simon kicked off three days of community college visits at Prairie State College, where she met with members of the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium. The consortium is the only organization in Illinois that brings together public, private and for-profit colleges and universities to help students succeed in education and the workforce.

“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.”

The 12-school consortium showcased a pilot program on “reverse transfers,” which should help more students earn a diploma, thereby improving their job prospects and earning potential. In May, the four-year institutions in the consortium identified 41 students who previously attended a two-year institution in the consortium but had not earned an associate’s degree prior to transferring.

With the students’ permission, the community colleges are auditing the participants’ transcripts to determine if they have completed university courses that could transfer back and fulfill remaining requirements for associate’s degrees. Audit results are expected in October, at which point the consortium will determine if it wants to offer transcript audits to more students.

“The reverse transfer concept benefits both students and the colleges. The students gain a degree and the community colleges can count that student in their graduation statistics. Currently transfer students are statistically considered drop outs because they did not earn a degree prior to transferring,” said Genevieve Boesen, executive director of the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium.

As the Governor’s point person on education reform, Simon embarked on a Complete College tour this year to visit all 48 community colleges across the state and promote the state’s completion goal. Illinois wants 60 percent of working-age adults to hold a college degree or certificate by 2025. In order to reach this goal, Illinois’ postsecondary institutions must increase the number of graduates statewide by 4,400 students each year, for a total of 600,000 additional graduates by 2025.

The three-day swing of Southland colleges will take Simon to Chicago Heights, South Holland, Palos Hills, Joliet and Kankakee, where she will meet with students, faculty and administrators to discuss areas in which their schools excel in completion and workforce development efforts, and roadblocks to future success.

Simon wants to see schools reform how they deliver remedial education, handle transfer students and publicize completion results. She also serves on the state’s performance funding committee, which is creating a system to tie state higher education dollars to completion milestones and graduation.

“We have a funding system now that rewards enrollment, and we need to shift that to reward course completions, graduation and other markers of progress and success,” said Simon, who will mark her 30th college this week.

SMHEC’s community college members are: Joliet Junior College, Kankakee Community College, Moraine Valley Community College, Prairie State College and South Suburban College. Its private and university members are: DeVry University, Governors State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Lewis University, Northwestern College, Saint Xavier University, and the University of Saint Francis.

“We’re very excited about the Lt. Governor’s visit and the opportunity to share our commitment to increasing graduation rates and the things we’re doing at Prairie State College to make it happen,” said Eric Radtke, PSC president.