VIEWPOINT: Let's change the conversation on higher education


At Kishwaukee College, we are done focusing our conversations on declining enrollments. We are going to talk about student success.
We will be conferring degrees on May 18, with 310 students planning to participate in commencement. Last year at spring graduation there were 255 students. We have more graduates, even with declining enrollments. It is because at Kish, we are changing the conversation from enrollments to student completion.
This will be my fourth spring graduation at Kishwaukee College as president. During this time, the vast majority of the conversations regarding higher education in Illinois have been on enrollment and budget. And while it appears (and we are hopeful) that the state budget is a bit more stable, enrollments are not. This is true across the nation.
We have all seen the numbers — less students are graduating from our area high schools (in our district in the next four years, the number of high school graduates is predicted to decline 13 percent), and more students are leaving the state to attend college in warmer weather and neighboring states. They are capitalizing on the challenges we have faced in higher education in Illinois.
Our future students, their parents, and those in our schools helping to guide young people have heard consistently about the challenges we are facing. The underlining message has been one of instability and uncertainty for colleges and universities in our state. In other words — get out of Illinois. And in the end, this hurts all of us.
It is time for those of us in higher education to work to change the higher education message, by telling our stories of success. It is a story of not only surviving, but thriving. We are seeing our student completion numbers increase. We are seeing our student satisfaction surveys improving. We are creating stronger partnerships with businesses, government, and educational institutions. The state of Illinois is a national leader in the number of community college transfers going on to earn their bachelor’s degree. I have worked in a neighboring state — Illinois has a community college system second to none.
Later this month, I will be meeting with Dr. Lisa Freeman, President of Northern Illinois University, Dr. Larry Dietz, President of Illinois State University, and Dr. Keith Cornille, President of Heartland Community College. As colleges and universities that are in close physical proximity, we are working together to try to change the conversation in higher education, demonstrating our partnerships and the successful outcomes of our students.
I continue to hear so many great stories from alumni and other folks who have a friend or family member that have attended Kish. Please help me by sharing your Kish story, and change the conversation from one of challenges to one of success.

Dr. Laurie Borowicz is president of Kishwaukee College.

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