ROCKFORD – Lt. Governor Sheila Simon made the final stop on her tour of the state’s 48 community colleges today, and pledged to push for reforms that will help more students earn a college degree or certificate.
Following her visit to Rock Valley College in Rockford, Simon said she will focus her higher education reform recommendations on several key areas: reducing time to degree, decreasing student debt and increasing college transparency. She is reviewing several ways that the transition from high school to community college and from community college to public universities can be improved.
“We need to improve our higher education system today so that our students graduate on time, incur less debt and are ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow,” Simon said.
Economists predict that two-thirds of future jobs will require a college education, whether that is a certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or beyond. To meet this demand for a highly skilled workforce, Illinois leaders want to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent from 41 percent by 2025.
As the most affordable and accessible form of higher education in Illinois, community colleges will play a major role in educating the new workforce, Simon said. That’s why she embarked on her Complete College Tour in February to see what community colleges were doing to improve completion, while also documenting barriers to the state completion goal.
“After visiting every community college in Illinois I can say this with certainty: We can build on what’s working well at each institution to create a system that’s unmatched in the nation,” said Simon, who intends to provide her reform recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly this winter.
Simon said Illinois could also get a boost in reaching the “60 by 2025 goal” with the passage of the American Jobs Act. With state funding flat, President Obama wants to invest $5 billion in federal money to repair and modernize community colleges across the nation.
"The money would pay for major classroom renovations, from plumbing upgrades to refurbished science labs to stronger wireless access for students,” said Simon, who posted her support on the White House blog this week. “I look forward to working with our local, state and federal partners to make this investment in jobs now that will prepare our students for the new economy.”