Clarissa Johnson, 18, first heard about Computer Systems Institute toward the beginning of her senior year at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. She was pregnant and hadn't thought too much about college, but she was intrigued by a presentation by a CSI administrator.
The first campus opened in 1996 in Skokie with satellites added in Chicago, Lombard, Gurnee and Elgin -- where the newest campus on Airport Road just finished its first year of operation in April. Students fresh out of high school through those near retirement now take courses in computer networking, business, and clinical and administrative health care.
Clarissa graduated high school in May and started a health care training program at CSI Aug. 6, newly set on the life of a nurse. With her 7-month-old daughter Paityn in mind, Clarissa decided health care seemed like a good field for well-paying work with benefits.
"The fact that I want to provide for my family was my motivation," Clarissa said.
She received CSI's merit-based SMART scholarship, which will pay for half of her tuition and reduce her overall costs by about $7,000.
She also considered Elgin Community College for her post-high school plans but chose CSI for the same reason many students do -- the program length is eight months.
Elgin campus President Tom Claxton said that makes CSI unique.
There is a more structured learning environment than other self-directed six- to eight-week certification courses, but the programs are still fast-paced enough to satisfy career-oriented adults in a time crunch.
"Our student is very, very focused, and they know they want to get into this career," Claxton said.
By next spring, Clarissa hopes to be working in a hospital. She'll take a clinical medical assistant certification test at the end of the program and use the resources in the CSI career services department to find placement.
Claxton said the focus on third-party certifications means employers don't need to trust CSI's word that their students are prepared -- they can see it through performance on industry accepted tests.
A blended learning approach combines classroom lectures, web-based interactive seminars and hands-on labs for the accredited programs. Claxton said that gives students a chance to absorb information from a variety of learning styles and better prepares them for their jobs.
"I love the learning style because I'm a hands-on learner," Clarissa said of her first two weeks of instruction. "I love how interactive they are with the students."
Classes start every two weeks with program completions happening monthly and graduation ceremonies quarterly.
For information about the programs, visit csinow.edu.