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Lt. Governor Simon visits Black Hawk, Illinois Valley 

Learns about resources to increase retention and completion rates  

MOLINE – September 27, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon brought her Complete College Tour to Black Hawk College this morning to hear how the school is aiming to help more students finish college on time and with less debt.

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. As the Governor’s point person on education reform, she is touring the state’s 48 community colleges to see completion efforts at each campus, while also compiling ideas to overcome the barriers to each college’s completion goals.  

“Illinois is winning the battle for access to college, and now we’re moving the fight to completion and graduation,” Simon said. “Policy makers and educators must work together to make data-driven reforms that will help more students earn a meaningful degree or certificate that qualifies them for a good-paying job.”

During her morning visit, Black Hawk College administrators highlighted a program launched this summer for students who tested into the upper levels of developmental math. The Summer Bridges program was designed to bring remedial students up to college-level work in time for fall courses and keep them on track toward a degree or certificate.

Students who attended the faculty-guided math lab two hours a day, four days a week, for six weeks, received a tuition waiver for the course. They used a web-based, adaptive learning system that took them quickly through familiar material and spent more time on their deficiencies, and they were assessed periodically to ensure material was mastered and retained.

Of the 21 students that completed the course this summer, 16 were reevaluated and ready for college-level math work this fall. Ten of those students scored at least 90 percent on the final assessment. Students who did not succeed often did not complete assignments and did not spend the determined amount of time on coursework.

“The Bridges program is only one example of the innovative ways Black Hawk College is working to prepare students to be successful in college-level coursework,” Black Hawk College President Gene Gardner said. “We know that education creates many opportunities for students to find a fulfilling career and enrich their lives. We appreciate Lt Governor Simon’s efforts to understand the challenges we face to improve our students’ success.”

At Illinois Valley Community College Simon learned about articulation agreements that allow students to transfer to four-year institutions without losing credits. In addition to traditional agreements, Illinois Valley and Northern Illinois University are participating in a new MAP Grant 2+2 pilot program that will help students stretch state MAP grant dollars farther.

This is how it works: Students are accepted at NIU and then agree to attend IVCC their freshmen and sophomore years as part of the 2+2 pilot program. The participating students are then guaranteed four years of maximum MAP grants and a spot at NIU their junior and senior years.

Because the IVCC tuition is less than the maximum MAP grant, the student “banks” the difference and applies it to their NIU bills. According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, a student in the pilot program will end up paying about $6,000 out of pocket for a bachelor’s degree, while a student at NIU all four years would pay about $20,000 out of pocket.  

“Students beginning their education at IVCC are already making a smart financial decision to save on tuition and housing expenses in their first two years of college,” said Patty Williamson, IVCC’s financial aid director. “The MAP 2+2 program takes those savings even further and substantially reduces the amount of student loan debt needed to complete a four-year degree. For students who think a bachelor’s degree is financially unobtainable, the IVCC/NIU partnership offers an opportunity to reach their goals at a reasonable cost to their families.”

Black Hawk and Illinois Valley are the 35th and 36th stops on the tour.