Math causing dropouts for community colleges

Report finds students stuck in catch-up courses

January 19, 2012

Students at Illinois' 48 community colleges are not graduating with degrees or certificates that would help them land a job at the rate some state officials would like, according to a new report commissioned by Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. 

About 41 percent of students - less than half - leave community college with a meaningful career certificate or degree within three years of enrolling, the report found. Simon would like to see that number jump to 60 percent during the next decade.

Simon, who is Gov. Pat Quinn's point person on education reform, spent nearly a year visiting all of the state's community colleges.

"They represent 380,000 students, more than the state's 12 public universities, and so it's a significant population of students not graduating at the rate they should be" and an opportunity for state lawmakers to do something about it, she said. 

One of the biggest problems, she said, is mathematics. Students enroll at a community college but test-in below college standards for math. They are then required to take catch-up math courses. And that eats away at their budgets and their patience, especially if the math courses don't apply toward their degrees. They would rather spend the time and money on courses to advance their careers, Simon's report found.

As a result, more of them drop out before finishing. 

One way to help fix the problem, she said, is to make students in high school take four years of math instead of three. She said she'll work with the legislature to give high schools incentives to voluntarily require four years of math in order to graduate.