Illinois community colleges enroll almost a million students annually, but four out of five students fail to earn their degrees on time, according to a report released Thursday by Lt. Gov Sheila Simon. Simon hopes to improve that statistic by pushing community colleges with achievement-based funding incentives, and refocusing high schools to produce students better prepared for college success.
Simon toured the state's 48 community college last year, and found that almost half of first year community college students were enrolled in at least one remedial class, re-learning high school-level material, usually in math, according to the State Journal-Register. At many schools, these catch-up classes don't count towards students' degree progress, stalling their graduation while they rack up debt.
Simon's "Focus on the Finish" report found that some colleges were already reaching out to high schools to better prepare their students for college. At Kankakee Community College, where about 80 percent of incoming students take remedial math, the college's president is working with a dozen local high schools to test juniors for problem areas and encourage students to take four years of math, instead of the minimum three, the Associated Press reports.
Simon's office is also developing legislation that would direct public school funding based on performance, and require public report cards to help students better predict their degree paths, according to the AP.
"We're doing a good job of getting all types of students into the doors of community colleges," Simon told the Chicago Tribune. "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."
Illinois Community College Board Chairman Alexi Giannoulias says he will join Simon's fight, and is working with businesses to help match community college programming with available jobs in Illinois, the Journal-Register reports. Giannoulias agrees that improvement should begin at the high school level, citing student frustrations with remedial courses as a strong force driving the high dropout rate.