March 21, 2011
RIVER GROVE – Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visited Triton College today during her fifth stop on a statewide tour to increase college completion rates.
Simon announced earlier this year that the state wants to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent from 41 percent by 2025. This way, Illinois will have the highly skilled and educated workforce necessary to fill jobs of the future.
“As a state and a nation we do a good job of making sure that community college is accessible to students, regardless of their backgrounds,” Simon said. “It is time to focus our attention on making sure those students complete a certificate or degree. Access and success must go hand in hand.”
Triton College President Patricia Granados highlighted the River Grove school’s work with Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit organization whose focus is to reduce academic achievement gaps among minority and low-income students who are attending community colleges.
The school is implementing a college readiness initiative, requiring students to take placement tests to determine enrollment in developmental or credit math, reading and English courses. The students’ success rates will be tracked, and the data used to reform existing programs or develop new ones that increase student retention, degree completion and transfers to four-year universities.
“We have strengthened our efforts to critically examine learning outcomes to ensure our students complete their education and achieve their goals. Based on our student success strategies, we anticipate significant progress this year and beyond,” Granados said.
One challenge Triton faces is the number of students that are not college ready. Almost 90 percent of new Triton students tested into non-credit, developmental math courses in 2009-2010. The longer it takes for students to earn credits, the more likely they are to leave school without achieving a certificate or degree that aligns with gainful employment.
During Simon’s visit, Granados showcased the school’s new Welcome Center, students’ first point of contact with counselors, and the Academic Success Center, which is now located in a building along with other student supports, including computer, math and writing labs, tutoring and disability services.
The tour also stopped into the Hospitality Industry Administration department, which places 95 percent of its graduates at restaurants and hotels in the Chicago metro area. The school is applying for a federal grant to expand its HIA offerings, to respond to a projected 8 percent job growth in the next five years.
Triton administrators suggested two state policy changes. To improve college readiness, they said Illinois could require four years of high school math for graduation, up from three. They also voiced support for SB59, which would require public universities to grant junior year status to all community college students who earn associate’s degrees. Many students who start out at community colleges intending to pursue bachelor’s degrees never do so because public universities won’t transfer all of their credit hours, they said.
The Triton visit was the fifth stop on Simon’s tour of the state’s 48 community colleges, and the first in the suburban Chicago region. Simon wants to see how the schools are working to improve completion rates and workforce development, and gather ideas on how the state can help schools overcome barriers to completion goals.
Simon has testified in support of performance funding, which would link a portion of state higher education funding to student success rather than enrollment or other factors.
“Illinois is serious about increasing college completion,” Simon said. “We do a good job on college accessibility, but we need to improve course, certificate and degree completion. We want more students who walk in the door of community colleges, to walk across the stage at graduation and into an Illinois workplace.”