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November 23, 2010

ILLINOIS PUBLIC AGENDA 2.0

As state fiscal calamity deepens, IBHE to redouble efforts to improve college attainment, affordability, and economic growth

SPRINGFIELD –If ever a state needed a plan to escape its fiscal quagmire and restore economic health, now is the time. And the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success is the plan.

Two years after endorsing a new strategic plan for the state’s colleges and universities, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) is poised to reenergize the Public Agenda as the surest path to Illinois’ economic recovery.

“In the first two years of implementing the Illinois Public Agenda, we have made significant strides in building a solid infrastructure to achieve the goal of increased educational attainment, which is the foundation of a vigorous economy,” Carrie J. Hightman, IBHE Chairwoman, said. “But in that same period, the state’s fiscal condition and the economic standing of its citizens have continued to deteriorate. We must now build on that foundation with strategies that will bring tangible results – more citizens with relevant, high-quality college credentials to ignite the Illinois economy.”

The Board will meet December 7th at Chicago-Kent College of Law to review the first two years of implementation of the Illinois Public Agenda, and look ahead to measures to advance its four goals: increasing educational attainment, improving college affordability, strengthening workforce development, and linking higher education’s valuable research and innovation assets to economic growth.

Hightman noted that in the two years since the IBHE approved the Public Agenda, much has been done to lay the groundwork for measureable gains in achieving the goals – in legislation passed, in policy work, and in integrating the vision of the Public Agenda into the ongoing operations of college and university campuses.
For example, legislation was passed to create a statewide, comprehensive longitudinal data system to track student success from preschool through graduate school and into the workforce. Once the system is online, this tool that will give lawmakers and policymakers insights about, among other things, student performance, teacher and school effectiveness, progress in improving college retention and graduation rates, and employer satisfaction with college graduates.

The General Assembly also enacted a new grant program to spur baccalaureate completion partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions to serve place-bound students needing convenient, affordable options for completing their bachelor’s degree. Given the state’s fiscal problems, the program is yet to be funded, although it remains a priority investment proposal in the IBHE budget. Other legislative measures enacted to implement the Public Agenda include a baccalaureate transfer grant program, reform of the training of school principals, the College and Career Readiness Act, and expansion of quality dual credit opportunities.

On the policy front, the state has made progress on educational attainment, college readiness, workforce development, and college financing. Illinois is one of 33 “alliance” states through Complete College America, a national initiative designed to raise to 60 percent the proportion of Illinoisans with a marketable college credential by 2025. Reaching that level of attainment will require an additional 4,400 college degrees or certificates each year for the next 15 years – a total of 600,000 new degrees.

Illinois also is among the states to adopt the Common Core Standards designed to connect what students learn in high school with what they are expected to know when they get to college. A part of that effort is development of a new high school assessment that will test a student’s readiness to begin college-level coursework.

“Again, while some of these efforts are still in the development stage, they are notable achievements in moving Illinois toward increased student success at all levels of the educational pipeline, a vital recommendation of the Public Agenda,” Chairwoman Hightman said.

One policy matter that has advanced is a series of partnerships between Northern Illinois University and its neighboring community colleges for bachelor’s degrees in high-demand occupational fields, a move fostered by the Board of Higher Education through its program approval responsibility.

In addition, at the direction of the legislature, the Higher Education Finance Study Commission is finalizing recommendations for reforming the way Illinois finances its higher education system. The Commission will recommend the state move toward a performance based model to allocate a share of new state resources to achieving state goals: increased degree production and improved affordability for students.

The Public Agenda has moved onto college and university campuses as well. Chicago State University has created new positions aimed at strengthening freshman retention and bolstering the institution’s graduation rate. Western Illinois University and Black Hawk College have created a unique “2+2” alliance that will allow students to enter Black Hawk and graduate from WIU debt free.

“Efforts at the campus level to implement the Public Agenda are vastly important to achieving our goals because the colleges and universities are the real venue for making substantial progress in improving attainment, affordability, workforce skills, and economic development,” the Chairwoman noted. “The Board of Higher Education, our sister state agencies, and the General Assembly set the direction, coordinate strategies, allocate resources, and create a viable infrastructure. The campuses must be willing and engaged partners for the Public Agenda to become a dynamic, living document.”

The December meeting will feature the unveiling of a new performance report to gauge progress in achieving the objectives of Goal 1 of the Public Agenda: Increase educational attainment to match the best-performing states. Goal 1 is central to achieving the state’s target for educational attainment by 2025.

“The Public Agenda process uncovered a ‘prosperity gap’ in Illinois that, in essence, has divided Illinois into two states – one well-educated and well-off, and a second that is undereducated and struggling financially,” Hightman noted. “If anything, this prosperity gap, which is the direct result of disparities in educational attainment by race, ethnicity, income, and geography, may well have worsened in the past two years, given the nation’s and Illinois’ relentless economic doldrums.

“That makes the importance of moving the needle through the Public Agenda all the more urgent,” Hightman said. “The sooner we erase this gap, the faster Illinois will emerge from its economic purgatory.”
The Board will also receive the final report from the Higher Education Finance Study Commission, which is being submitted to the General Assembly in December.

“The work of the Commission to develop a higher education funding scheme related to degree completion is an example of the Public Agenda in action” said Hightman. “The Board looks forward to incorporating the Commission’s recommendations into our work on a higher education budget and our policy plans.”

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