March 24, 2011

SIUC helping lead Complete College Illinois effort

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is helping lead a statewide effort to increase the number of adults with college degrees from the current 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

Chancellor Rita Cheng is a member of the Complete College Illinois Team, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. Illinois is one of 26 states participating in Complete College America, an alliance focusing on college completion and enhancing partnerships between universities and community colleges. The alliance, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and the W.W. Kellogg Foundation, is an outgrowth of President Barack Obama's challenge to make the U.S. No. 1 in the proportion of college graduates. Currently, the U.S. ranks ninth in the world.

Other members of the Illinois team are: Sen. Edward Maloney, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee; Rep. Bob Pritchard, minority spokesperson of the House Higher Education Committee; Jerry Weber, president of the College of Lake County; Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable; Andy Davis, executive director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission; Elaine Johnson, vice president of academic affairs and workforce development for the Illinois Community College Board; George Reid, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; and Candace Mueller, the IBHE’s assistant director of external relations.

The Illinois team, created in February, participated earlier this month in a three-day academy sponsored by Complete College America to chart a plan of action.

Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday discussed the U.S. Department of Education’s college completion tool kit that urges the governors in each state to develop a plan aimed at increasing the numbers of students who complete college, Cheng said.

“It’s clearly aligning both the national and state agencies to increase the number of persons in our adult population who hold college degrees and is intended to align resources for success toward that goal,” she said.

Cheng emphasized the steps SIUC is taking to improve college completion. The University is focusing on four areas for improvement, beginning with creation of the University College, which will centralize and coordinate all services to support new freshmen and transfer students and improve their campus experience. The University College offices and programs focus on ensuring students complete their core requirements successfully so they then can advance to their majors, Cheng said.

Cheng said SIUC's approach includes three broad elements: partnering with local community colleges to increase the number of students who transfer to the University to complete a four-year degree; transforming the University’s math and English courses to increase the success of students completing these courses; and examining all degree programs to make sure that full-time students who do not change majors can complete their coursework in four years with approximately 120 credit hours.

The math initiative utilizes a hybrid model in introductory classes to combine standard classroom instruction with extensive use of a software platform that features learning aids such as video and animations, as well as assignment and study plans customized to meet the needs of individual students. The goal is to ensure students will be successful and able to complete their entry-level courses within one semester, said Mark Amos, director of the University’s Saluki First Year program.

The introductory algebra initiative began three years ago; next fall the math initiative will expand to include universal placement testing, and the English initiative will start as a pilot program, Amos said. Amos also anticipates that grant funds will be available to develop the initiative in the department of English.

The Complete College Illinois Team is working on several initiatives toward Complete College America’s goals. Sen. Maloney earlier this month introduced legislation in the Illinois Senate that links state funding to meeting performance standards still to be determined. The Complete College Illinois Team is working collaboratively so that the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Complete College America team propose and develop the appropriate mechanisms in applying performance-based standards, Cheng said.

The goals of the Complete College Illinois Team are “very much aligned with the work that we are already doing” at SIUC, Cheng said.

“We are a powerful research University that opens its doors to students from all walks of life. We want to improve the undergraduate experience,” she said, emphasizing the restructuring in Enrollment Management, along with upcoming math and English initiatives.