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August 3, 2009

IBHE TO FOCUS ON HELPING COLLEGE STUDENTS CROSS FINISH LINE

Stan Jones, national expert on college completion, will guide Board discussion of strategies to increase number of students finishing degrees

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois has a problem getting college students from here to there – from college freshman to college graduate.

According to the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success, the state trails significantly behind the best-performing states in retention of college freshmen for their sophomore year, in graduating students from college, and in the number of workforce-age adults with a bachelor’s degree. The bottom line: For the first time in the nation’s history, the current generation of college-aged Americans – and Illinoisans – will be less educated than their parents, and that has serious implications for the Illinois economy.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) will take up the issue with Stan Jones, founding president of the newly formed National Consortium for College Completion (NCCC), a Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit organization, in a discussion of strategies to improve retention and degree completion for college students at its August 11 meeting at DePaul University. Jones is the former Commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

As a new national alliance to create an agenda on college completion, the NCCC plans to work directly with states committed to the goal of substantially increasing the number of Americans with a postsecondary credentials. Jones will discuss efforts to dramatically increase higher education attainment by 2025 – a major goal announced recently by President Obama – with a special focus on raising the number of low-income, African American, and Hispanic students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential.

The Illinois Public Agenda has positioned us well to do our share to reach the President’s goal for increasing educational attainment,” Carrie J. Hightman, IBHE Chairwoman, said. “Through the lens of the Public Agenda, we already have begun to spotlight the barriers as well as the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality postsecondary credentials to meet the demands of our state’s economy.

“The Public Agenda has definitively documented the direct relationship between college attainment and economic security, and Illinois can ignore this vital and urgent issue only at its economic peril,” the Chairwoman said.

In another matter related to the Illinois Public Agenda, and to educational attainment, the Board will act on a request from Northern Illinois University for a baccalaureate completion collaboration with 11 community colleges for a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Applied Management. Based upon the occupational and student demands in the northern part of the state, the program will begin with two emphases: computer science and public safety. The baccalaureate completion program will be initiated at Oakton Community College and Rock Valley College, with plans to rotate courses among the other community college partners as occupational and student demand require. These new degree programs support the Illinois Public Agenda’s goal to increase postsecondary degree attainment for working adults with associate’s degrees and others who are place-bound and unable to complete their degrees on university campuses.

The Board will act on another key Public Agenda goal – college affordability – when it considers a proposal to give public universities more leeway in waiving tuition and fees for low-income students. Proposed administrative rules would exempt tuition waivers for students who demonstrate financial need from the overall limit on tuition and fee waivers imposed by the Board. This will allow public universities more flexibility to grant tuition waivers to those students who have demonstrated financial needs which have not been addressed because of the reduced availability of other need-based grants or scholarships, including the state’s Monetary Award Program.

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