September 22, 2011
By Matthew Bruce
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon met Wednesday with community college officials in the Southland as part of her statewide Complete College Tour.
Simon addressed senior officials from member schools of the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium during a meet-and-greet ceremony at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights. She spent the remainder of the day touring South Suburban College in South Holland and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, meeting with students, faculty and administrators.
Simon will also soon visit Kankakee Community College, Joliet Junior College and Danville Area Community College during her tour of all 48 community colleges in Illinois, with a goal of learning how local colleges and universities are working together to increase graduation and completion rates.
The 12-school South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium is the state’s lone organization that has public and private community colleges and universities working in collaboration.
“We need a better way to facilitate the communication between institutions,” Simon said. “There’s so much going on that works at different places. If we knew more about what other folks were up to, we’d probably do a better job.”
The former Southern Illinois University law professor is Gov. Pat Quinn’s point person on education. Simon has visited about 30 campuses across the state and is scheduled to conclude the tour next month. She will summarize its findings in a report to Quinn and the Legislature.
“One of the biggest challenges is the number of students who come to college not ready for college-level work,” Simon said. “That’s an area where I think we can make some improvements.”
In August, Quinn signed a bill that will go into effect Jan. 1 and that changes state funding for Illinois’ colleges and universities by tying money to factors such as academic performance and graduation rate. Simon’s report follows up on that law and will be used to guide state action, outside of legislation, to help community colleges improve.
“We want to set up a system that doesn’t backfire and discourage us from bringing in people to higher education,” Simon said. “We want to say ‘well done’ if you get the high school valedictorian, and they get a degree. But we also want to say ‘well done’ if you can, as an institution, serve students whom other people are expecting not to succeed and you can get them to success.”
Illinois’ goal is to have 60 percent of working-age adults hold a degree or college certificate by 2025. To achieve that, state colleges and universities will have to increase their graduates by 600,000 over the next 14 years.