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Our View: Today's stew is a healthy recipe for better education 

 
Rockford Register Star
October 9, 2011
Editorial Board

Today we serve up a stew that will make you smarter — at least about the need for more college for more people.

Less than 20 percent of people age 25 and above in Rockford have four-year college degrees, according to the last census. That compares with Chicago at 31.7 percent and places like Northbrook at 66 percent.

We have to do better.

MORE SCHOLARSHIPS: Fifty-eight percent of a city’s success can be attributed to the percentage of adults with a college degree.

That is according to research by CEOs for Cities, a Chicago-based network of urban leaders working to improve the next generation of cities in America. The group measures success by per capita income.

Given the strong ties between college attainment and the health of a community, area folks might want to plan on eating lunch at Forest Hills Country Club Wednesday.

It’s not too late to reserve your seat for the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois’ annual event to build its endowed scholarship funds. The funds allow more people in the area to pursue their dreams of a college education.

The luncheon, “Endowing Education, Creating Legacies for the Future,” is at noon Wednesday at Forest Hills. Tickets are $40 ($20 from each ticket directly benefits the endowed scholarship funds at the foundation).

Each year, the foundation awards more than $200,000 to students, making it the area’s largest nonprofit provider of scholarships. So far the foundation has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships.

The help is desperately needed: The average student loan debt of a college senior in the United States was $24,000 in 2009, according to the Project on Student Debt. Scholarships can help reduce that burden.

Tickets for the luncheon can be purchased at the foundation, 946 N. Second St., Rockford, or by calling 815-962-2110, ext. 10.

LESS FAVORITISM: While we think scholarships are vitally important, there’s been one kind doing more harm than good in Illinois.

The legislative scholarship program has existed since 1905 and has been ripe for abuse just as long. Under the program, each state legislator can award two four-year scholarships to Illinois universities, with no qualifications or minimum requirements. About $13.5 million in scholarships were awarded last year, but the schools are not compensated. They have to absorb the cost.

Making the program even more ridiculous: An investigation by The Associated Press found at least 43 scholarships awarded between 2004 and 2009 went to relatives of campaign contributors and other people with political ties.

Gov. Pat Quinn has made ending the legislative scholarships one of his top priorities during the veto session. Good to hear. We’d rather see the help go to kids who need it than to kids with connections.

BETTER TEAMWORK: Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is taking an undefined role as the state’s No. 2 and making it pay.

She visited the Editorial Board last week after making the 48th and last visit to community colleges in Illinois. She was at Rock Valley College, where she was impressed with how Rockford School District officials work closely with RVC to increase college attainment in the community.

Simon said more needs to be done, though, to assure high school graduates are prepared for community college coursework. She said the need for remedial work is especially acute in math.

The fixes Simon suggests: four years of math mandated for high school graduation, rather than three; and more collaboration between high schools and community colleges to align their curricula.

Simon says she’s preparing a report of her 48 visits, which may help community colleges around the state share information about what’s working well and how they can improve. That’s worth her salary right there.