Online Staff Report
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (D), state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Women Employed are backing education reform bills that are designed to increase college completion rates and better prepare students for the workforce.
The Complete College reform package aims to improve college and career readiness, smooth transfers from community colleges to universities, and make it easier for parents and students to compare higher education institutions.
The bills are being introduced following Simon’s fact-finding tour of the state’s 48 community colleges, and they reflect state and national efforts to boost graduation rates, build stronger relationships between schools and employers, and move to a more transparent and accountable higher education system.
The Senate Higher Education Committee is expected to call the Sen. Lightford-sponsored legislation on college report cards and a college transfer audit for a vote on Monday, March 26. A third bill creating state-recommended math curriculum that aims to cut down remediation needs at college, sponsored by Sen. Frerichs, also will be called next week.
“Our reform package puts Illinois on track to have the best educated workforce in the nation,” said Simon, the governor’s point person on education reform. “We want students to make informed choices. We want to send them to their chosen destinations ready to learn. And we want to make sure they transfer seamlessly between colleges, universities and the workforce. We’re approaching college completion from all angles, with the ultimate goal of graduating more students who are job ready.”
Sen. Lightford agreed to sponsor part of the Complete College Illinois reform package after successfully negotiating sweeping education reform bills last year, and Sen. Frerichs’ district is home to the state’s top university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Complete College Illinois reform package will require collaboration among the K-12, community college, university and for-profit higher education systems.
“We want to continue our work to make higher education as accessible to Illinois’ working families as possible,” Lightford said. “That’s what this common-sense legislative package is about. We’re seeking to make information more accessible and streamline the credit transfer process so that working families in Illinois have the information they need to choose the right school, and community college students can more easily make the transition to four-year institutions.”
Frerichs added: “Employers in my district, and across the state, have called on the legislature to enact policies that would strengthen the standards that provide us with a top-notch educated work force. The college reform package will raise those standards and reinforce our position as global leader in technology and agriculture.”
Women Employed, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to improve women’s economic status, backs the Complete College reform package. The package is designed to assist more women in achieving the credentials they need to advance in their careers.
Meegan Dugan Bassett, senior policy associate at Women Employed, said: “Education is a very important factor in women being able to get good jobs and support families. And women who are trying to get ahead are wasting time and money on courses that they cannot transfer or programs that are not a good fit for them. These bills will help make higher education in Illinois work better for the low- and middle-income families who need it most.”
The Complete College Illinois reform package contains the following three bills:
• S.B. 3803 requires the higher education community to create a consumer report card that could contain information such as tuition and completion rates. The consumer report cards would be standard across all Illinois colleges and universities that accept students receiving state or federal financial aid. The P-20 Council will coordinate the project over two years, with input from education stakeholders across the state including the Illinois Community College Board and Board of Higher Education. S.B. 3803 would help students to make informed choices about where to attend college.
• S.B. 3804 authorizes a comprehensive audit of transfers between community colleges and universities that accept students who receive state financial aid. The transcript audit will look for areas where transfer students are being denied credit for completed coursework and recommend ways to strengthen the state’s transfer system, known as the Illinois Articulation Initiative. S.B. 3804 will help students complete college on time and make better use of taxpayer dollars.
• S.B. 3244 directs the Illinois State Board of Education to design math curriculum for high schools by March 2013. This would be the first-ever recommended statewide curriculum model for any subject. It would define the scope and sequence of study for math and math equivalent courses throughout a student’s high school years, and could lead to early college enrollment. S.B. 3244 aims to better prepare students for post-secondary work and reduce expensive and time-consuming remedial math needs at colleges and universities.
Posted March 23, 2012