A Publication of WTVP

Educational outcomes today are not what they should be. American students are falling far behind their Asian and European counterparts in math, science, reading and writing. Once a major producer of engineers, America lags behind other industrialized countries.

We face a shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers. Our inability to train and retain good teachers creates a threat to the collective intelligence of our nation as a whole. Our infatuation with “professional” college education over vocational and career training that began in the Kennedy space-age era now threatens America’s manufacturing base. To add insult to injury, statistics from the Illinois Board of Higher Education show that more students are coming out of high school unprepared for college-level work.

The American educational crisis is every bit as threatening economically in the long term as the gas crisis is in the short term.

George R. Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, says it’s time to value creativity over tradition in higher education. The outcomes of what education does—that is, what the student has learned—rather than how the organization manages its resources must become the measure of educational success.

Illinois Central College has been developing outcome-based accountability. While most colleges and universities engage in student satisfaction and engagement surveys, few try to actually use the data for improvement. ICC does. In fact, at ICC, senior administrators’ compensation is based on improvement on key indicators for student learning, service to students, educating more people and creating value. These core goals drive organizational decisions. While this is not new for most corporations and businesses, higher education has traditionally eschewed this approach.

This focus on “customers” (a word that is uncomfortable for most educators) brought about key advances at ICC. One of the most successful was the ICC North Campus at the former Zeller site. The community asked for a north campus, Representative David Leitch saw an opportunity, and ICC took the risk, often in the face of harsh criticism. The attendance has grown from 96 students to more than 9,000. North is home to the culinary arts, criminal justice, paralegal, fire science and therapeutic massage programs, and it supports several health career programs and the regional police training center.

To the best of our knowledge, ICC was the first and remains one of the few colleges or universities to employ Six Sigma. The Six Sigma process has been applied to operational processes, as well as advisement, class scheduling and other educational processes. To support this “quality approach,” ICC is also using the Baldrige-Lincoln criteria and participates in the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) of the Higher Learning Commission. AQIP focuses prospectively on improving education rather than the retrospective review of traditional accreditation. ICC’s dedication to listening to those we serve has resulted in a structured “customer service” program launching this fall.

ICC now offers college courses to 20-plus high schools. Lacon’s Midland High School worked with ICC to allow students to spend their senior year here, providing them with rigorous academics and college credit when they graduate. ICC and District 150 have signed a memo of understanding to work on key initiatives to improve educational outcomes. In addition, ICC will have a physical presence in District 150 high schools this fall to help students understand how and why to prepare for college and to offer advice and information on enrolling in college.

Another partnership, the Caterpillar Dealer Service Technician program, began in the late ‘90s, has been replicated internationally. ICC and Cat are seeking to expand the local program. ICC is also working with Pekin to place skilled trades training in that city. This, in effect, will establish the beginning of ICC South. G&D Integrated is helping ICC restructure the trucking curriculum to meet the special needs of the transport industry and has graciously offered to supply the college with rigs. In healthcare, ICC is working with the Workforce Network to attract and prepare students for key healthcare professions.

Recognizing that more students need developmental work, ICC has created specialized classes that pair courses so students are developing complementary skills. Math “catch-up” support classes have been piloted and are being refined. ICC faculty will learn about new teaching approaches that create logical “grouped” classes. A Six Sigma team is creating a systematic way of identifying and responding rapidly to emerging market needs. This shift to a “market-driven” approach is a long cry from the traditional “sage-on-the-stage” view of higher education.

These are only the beginning points. ICC has embraced a new mission: “Through education, minds change. We believe by changing minds, we can change the world.” As an institution of higher learning, ICC is looking for ways to create new value and better outcomes. We’ll only get there by looking at things through a new lens, learning from those outside our industry, and being brave enough to let our creativity rule. iBi