ECC chief offers look at legislative concerns
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org February 25, 2012 3:20PM
Elgin Community College officials (on couch, from left) Trustees Donna Redmer and John Duffy and President David Sam meet with U.S. Rep Randy Hultgren (left) and a staff member in Hultgren's Washington office earlier this month. | Submitted
Updated: March 27, 2012 8:15AM
ELGIN — Elgin Community College President David Sam and members of the college’s board of trustees shared several legislative concerns with lawmakers earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
Among them was proposed legislation that would require prospective students to earn a high school diploma, GED or home-schooling certification before they can enroll at community college.
The suggestion came during the American Association of Community College Trustees 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit. Sam and ECC District 509 Trustees Donna Redmer and John Duffy recently returned to the community college from the Washington summit.
One of the association’s 2012 federal legislative priorities was to support President Barack Obama’s Community College to Career Fund, announced during the Community College National Legislative Summit.
“College and career readiness was mentioned several times during the summit,” Sam said.
And, he said, “Because we are in the forefront, in discussions, we were able to champion what we are doing.”
But Sam and the trustees didn’t just discuss their efforts with their peers. They presented a number of ECC’s programs to the U.S. Department of Education, Sam said.
The delegation also shared some of its concerns with legislators and policymakers on Capitol Hill, including U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, and Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield. They met Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-McHenry, who had not been available the week before, Sam said.
One of those concerns is the proposed federal bill that would require prospective students to first earn a high school diploma or its equivalent, he said. Currently, community colleges can admit anybody based on his or her ability to benefit from college-level work, he said.
“That means, for example, somebody who went straight to work before earning his or her diploma and later was laid off from that would not be able to get training for a new career at a community college,” Sam said.
If that bill were in place this past school year, he said, Elgin Community College would have rejected 107 students.
Sam and the trustees also described to lawmakers the “Catch-22”of the federal requirement to give a loan to any student who asks for one, Sam said.
“That could be Bill Gates,” he said.
Or it could be a student they know will default on his or her loan, leaving the college “on the hook,” he said.
In response, Elgin Community College has begun offering one-on-one financial counseling to any student who applies for a loan, Sam said. After one of those counseling sessions, he said, one student who had requested $17,000 decided all he or she really needed was $875.
“That is something we are doing that is very important. That’s good. We’ll continue to do it. But we want them to be aware of that,” Sam said.
And they discussed their concerns with what the federal government considers “completion,”he said. Right now, it uses the template of a student who attends school full-time and completes an associate’s degree in two years, he said.
If somebody enrolls in a few French classes before a trip to Paris or summer courses while home from a university on a break, or takes longer than two years to complete a degree while juggling school with work and family, he or she would be considered a failure by those standards, Sam said. Those standards put Elgin Community College’s completion rate at 25 percent.
“If you take a course and don’t complete a degree, you are considered a failure,” Sam said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Instead, he said, he looks at the 1,013 degrees and 1,516 certificates completed between summer 2010 and spring 2011 at the community college — numbers that have increased 41 percent in the past four years. And he suggested that the federal government measure completion by semester, as students may enroll only for one course or semester.
“For me, that’s the completion rate,” he said.