A report released Thursday by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon implores education leaders to find a way to increase the number of community college students who graduate with a degree or certificate.
The report, "Illinois Community Colleges: Focus on the Finish," explores how the state's 48 community colleges are educating students and preparing them for the workforce.
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In the report, Simon noted that community colleges reach more students -- but graduate fewer -- than other higher education institutions. Simon said four out of five recent high school graduates who enter community college do not complete a degree or certificate within three years.
"We're doing a good job of getting all types of students into the doors of community colleges," Simon said in a news release. "But now we need to do a better job of moving them across the stage at graduation with a certificate or degree that leads to a good paying job here in Illinois."
As the point person on education reform for Gov. Pat Quinn, Simon toured every one of the state's community colleges during 2011.
An area of particular focus, Simon said in an address to the City Club of Chicago Thursday, is math.
"Across the community college system, more than one in three recent high school grads needed at least one remedial math course, though it is as high as 80 or 90 percent at some schools," Simon said in her speech.
"Students are spending time and money -- both their own money and taxpayer money -- relearning material in courses that don't count toward a degree," she said.
Simon urged educators and community colleges to build an effective system to ensure students make a smooth transition from high school to community college and from community college to 4-year universities.
An effective example of a community college "blurring the lines between college and high school," is Harper College, Simon said. The Palatine-based community college works closely with three high schools to encourage students to enroll in a fourth year of math, a requirement at the state level that Simon proposed for graduation.
"It feels like we are making progress," Harper College President Kenneth Ender said. "It is good to be used as an example for good partnerships."
The report also highlighted some key programs at Elgin Community College, College of Lake County, College of DuPage, Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.
The Alliance for College Readiness at Elgin Community College also was highlighted in the report. The program, which provides a summer bridge course for students deemed "almost college ready" in writing, math or both, has seen success in reducing a student's need for remedial classes.
ECC President David Sam said the report gives the college a challenge to build on the areas in which it is doing well, and also provides guidance on where it needs improvement.