June 1, 2012
By Lenore Sobota
BLOOMINGTON — Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon thinks it should be as easy to compare colleges as it is to compare the calories and contents of soft drinks.
“When I have a Mountain Dew, I know exactly where to look on the can for what it has … and how to compare it with a Coke or a Pepsi,” Simon said.
But finding information about tuition, fees, average student debt load, degree completion rates and job placement for colleges isn’t so simple, even though institutions already collect that data, she said.
House Bill 5248, which Simon helped draft, called for including such information on a standardized higher education “report card” that would be easily accessible on a school’s website.
The Senate passed HB 5248 unanimously, but it got buried in the harried final hours of the House session that ended Thursday night. Simon expects the College Choice Reports legislation to be reconsidered in the fall veto session.
Even without passage, Simon said, the bill has prompted some institutions to work on report cards. Black Hawk College in Moline has compiled basic information, similar to what HB 5248 called for, and placed it on postcards sent to prospective students, she said.
Jay Groves, a spokesman for Illinois State University, said, “The College Choice Reports will be a good tool for students as they prepare to make the important investment in higher education.”
Another piece of Simon-backed legislation fared better.
Senate Bill 3244, approved by both houses with only one “no” vote, authorizes the Illinois State Board of Education to design a model math curriculum for middle and high school students.
The curriculum would be optional and doesn’t change graduation requirements. However, results would be analyzed in four years to measure whether students following the model curriculum perform better than others, and that could prompt changes.
The intent is to address a problem uncovered in studies and in Simon’s tour of the state’s community colleges.
“Every community college said it had way too many students coming in needing remedial math courses,” Simon said.
It’s not just a problem for those going on to college. Employers report problems, too.
Simon said the Rock Island Arsenal had 170 otherwise qualified applicants for jobs that did not require college degrees, but only 70 passed the math test.