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Lt. Governor Simon visits Carl Sandburg, Spoon River 

Schools focus on college readiness to boost completion  

GALESBURG – September 26, 2011. Looking for ways to improve college completion rates, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon brought her Complete College Tour to Carl Sandburg and Spoon River community colleges today to learn about programs that aim to help students earn a degree or certificate.

“Illinois is serious about increasing college certificate and degree completion,” Simon said. “I want to work with all Illinois community colleges to produce the best educated workforce in the nation.”  

As announced earlier this year, Simon’s goal is to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent from the current 41 percent by 2025. Simon 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.

At Carl Sandburg, placement testing has shown that nine out of 10 students are not prepared for college-level math, six out of 10 are not ready for college-level writing and five out of 10 are not prepared for college-level reading. Through an Illinois Community College Board grant, Sandburg has developed a curriculum to embed credit-bearing preparatory coursework within the health sciences field. The Bridge Program for Developmental Coursework advances student cohorts through preparatory-level, college-level and program-specific courses together and aims to improve retention and completion rates through contextualized learning and career exploration.

“Contextualizing coursework is a synergistic approach for students’ careers,” said Lauri Wiechmann, dean of Career, Technical and Health Education. “Participants will get career preparation at each junction of their educational evolution. Once the student completes the Bridge program they should be adequately prepared for college-level coursework including program-specific health careers.”

Residents in the Spoon River district begin contact with the college as early as their sophomore year in high school when students are administered the COMPASS college placement test. While students might not test “college-ready” at that time, staff from Spoon River travels to the district high schools to explain test results to students and their parents.            

“We understand these students still have two years of high school left, so we don’t expect them to test as college ready,” said Brandi Ketcham, a student advisor at Spoon River. “However, their scores reveal areas they may be weak in, which helps them to plan the rest of their high school courses accordingly, and also helps them realize what will be expected of them at the college level.”            

Spoon River College administrators believe that the early intervention COMPASS testing and counseling better prepares students for college coursework at their school and also when students pursue higher-level degrees at four-year institutions. Recent data shows Spoon River students that transferred to Illinois State University from fall 2009 to spring 2011 earned an average 3.11 GPA, while other community college transfers earned an average 2.97.

Carl Sandburg and Spoon River were the 33rd and 34th stops on the tour.