Illinois Releases New Report on Practices to Increase College Completion Rates

Illinois Lt. governor Sheila Simon this month released a report called "Illinois Community Colleges: Focus on the Finish." <Click on this link to download the complete report> It is practical examples how the collegtes are implementing practices to improve college completion rates for their students. Some of these could be appropriately modified and integrated into TRIO and other opportunity programs.

Following is the Executive Summary of the report: Community colleges are the future of the Illinois economy. Nearly 1 million students pass through their doors each year in search of accessible, affordable education and career training. Unfortunately, too many students leave campus without the certificate or degree necessary for a good-paying job. Slightly fewer than one in five Illinois students who began their studies as first-time, full-time students at Illinois community colleges in the fall of 2007 graduated by the summer of 2010. In order for our state to attract and retain businesses – and do right by our students – we need to dramatically increase this success rate.

As the Governor’s point person on education reform, I completed a statewide fact-finding tour of all 48 Illinois community colleges in 2011. I wanted to hear firsthand how schools were working to improve completion rates, and to gather input on how the state could facilitate their success. Given that community colleges reach more students – but graduate fewer – than other higher education institutions, their performance is critical to creating a globally competitive workforce.

Today, the Illinois workforce is slightly ahead of most states, with 41 percent of our nearly 7 million working-age adults (25-64 years old) holding at least a two-year degree. But if we do not increase the proportion of certificate and degree holders over time, Illinois will not only fall behind our neighbors, but also lose out on international job investment. As Chair of the P-20 Council’s Joint Educational Leadership Committee and a member of Illinois’ Complete College America team, I am working to increase the proportion of Illinoisans with meaningful college and career credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

During the tour, I found that colleges are actively pursuing the state’s “60 by 2025” completion goal. I witnessed several small scale, but promising, reforms to prepare incoming students and reduce the time it takes for them to earn credentials and enter the regional and national workforce. These emerging on-the-ground practices, coupled with overviews of national research and completion strategies, provide the foundation for this report.