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Simon talks education, rural issues at DeKalb stop 

DeKalb Daily Chronicle
March 10, 2012
By Nicole Weskerna

DeKALB – On a stop Friday at Northern Illinois University, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon shared some of her initiatives improve education and access to services in rural Illinois.

In October, Simon completed a tour of the state’s 48 community colleges to figure out ways to “do more with what we’ve got.” The state’s goal is to increase the number of students who earn a degree or certificate from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

The tour clarified what she called rough spots in transitions from high school to community college and from community college to a four-year institution. The tour also prompted legislation that would require high school students to complete four years of math instead of three.

“Right now, we only require three years of math in high school, so a lot of folks arrive in college not ready for college-level math, partly because they took a vacation,” she said.

The state is planning an audit of how community college credits transfer to four-year institutions. Simon also hopes to come up with a consumer report for education that would offer a side-by-side comparison of colleges to weigh factors such as graduation rates and costs.

Even with the state’s financial woes, Simon believes many recommendations from the higher education initiative will come to fruition because they can be implemented at little cost.

Simon is also the chairwoman of the Classrooms First Commission, which looks at how school districts can increase student opportunities and resources. The commission is exploring efficiencies, especially among rural schools, through distance learning, sharing teachers within a district and utilizing online resources.

The state’s Rural Affairs Council is in the process of gathering input from groups in rural parts of the state to see which services can be improved. The RAC also plans to improve rural emergency medical services and promote use of local foods.

“The vast majority of money that we spend on food goes to food that we buy from outside of the state of Illinois,” she said. “And here we are this tremendously rich agricultural state.”

Simon was on campus to present at a leadership development seminar for a dozen political science students who were invited because they demonstrated exemplary leadership skills. Media was not allowed into the seminar; NIU spokesman Paul Palian said there is a policy that prohibits guests from classrooms unless the instructor offers an invitation.