Lake County News-Sun
June 27, 2011
By Dan Moran
GRAYSLAKE — With a goal of visiting all 48 community colleges in the state before the end of the year, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon came to the College of Lake County Monday afternoon to record her 23rd such visit, and the third accomplished on Monday alone.
CLC president Jerry Weber, noting that Simon had arrived after visiting Oakton Community College in Des Plaines and McHenry County Community College in Crystal Lake, joked that “she told me on the way in that she saved the best for last.”
Simon smiled and said diplomatically that “all community colleges are my favorite.”
Simon, a one-time Southern Illinois University law professor and wife of an instructor at John A. Logan College near Carbondale, told a gathering of more than two dozen administrators and students that her “Complete College Tour” is intended to experience in person what statistics can’t provide.
“We’re looking at community colleges across the state because I can read about what’s going on at schools, you can see the data, but really being here is significant,” she said, inviting more than a dozen students in attendance to “tell us who you are and what you like about what’s going on here.”
Several students mentioned that financial considerations were high on the list in choosing CLC over a four-year university, with some of saying that they were the first members of their family to attend college. CLC officials discussed several programs that are geared toward keeping such students enrolled until they receive their associate’s degree.
Darl Drummond, CLC vice president for student development, told Simon that male students between 18 and 24 are more likely to leave during or after their first semester, prompting the college to create student-support initiatives like Men of Vision, which was created in 2009 to encourage academic progress and social participation.
Simon was also told that CLC’s recent data indicate that retention programs are succeeding. According to Weber, the college has seen the percentage of students staying at CLC from the fall semester to the following spring semester go up from 66 percent to 69.5 percent since 2008, and fall-to-fall retention has gone up from 46 percent to 49.6 percent over that same period.
“That’s still not as high as we want it to be, but we’re going in the right direction,” said Weber, adding that the same is true for the percentage of CLC students passing their courses, which went up from 69.1 percent in fall 2007 to 76.5 percent in fall 2010.
One practical approach used to raise those numbers, according to CLC vice president for educational affairs Rich Haney, is a focus on “high-impact courses.” That definition includes such things as developmental English and math, and first-year accounting and business classes.
“These are the top-10 courses that we believe have the highest impact, particularly on first-year students,” said Haney, adding that programs include such things as more open labs, tutoring and faculty development.
Monday’s wide-ranging discussion also included calls for better communication between high schools and colleges about preparing students for secondary education, and concerns from low-income students about obtaining Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants. The ultimate goal of Simon’s community-college tour is to forge policies that will increase the percentage of working-age adults with college degrees from the current 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.
“We’re shooting to be done in October, and then we’ll (compile) the information and make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature before the end of the year,” said Simon, who told the CLC audience before she departed that “let’s consider this the beginning of the discussion, and not the end.”
Blagojevich verdict: ‘Glad to see case resolved’
The guilty verdicts in the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial were announced literally minutes before Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon arrived at the College of Lake County to discuss academic-achievement initiatives with students and administrators.
While the news flash of the day did not come up during Simon’s interaction with CLC representatives, the one-time assistant state’s attorney for downstate Jackson County offered brief remarks afterward supporting the jury’s decision.
“My reaction, as a former prosecutor, is that I’m glad to see the case resolved and I’m glad to have the former governor found guilty by a jury of his peers,” Simon said. “It’s important to me to have our system of justice administered.”
Asked if she expected the results seen on Monday, Simon added that “I’ve been following it, and given the course of the trial, it would be hard to expect any particular result ... Having tried many cases to a jury, sometimes they’re as individual as the personalities on the jury.”
Simon worked for four years as a prosecutor in Jackson County, which is home to Carbondale and Southern Illinois University. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor, she taught at the SIU School of La