The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust
Faced with low graduation rates and unmet needs by employers and businesses in the region, the City Colleges of Chicago was in need of a drastic overhaul. Before leaving office, former Mayor Richard M. Daley began to put in place an unprecedented plan that would right the course.
In November 2010, Daley appointed Cheryl Hyman, then ComEd Co. director of government and legislative affairs, as the new chancellor. Since then, she has led the Reinvention of the City Colleges of Chicago, a project designed to ensure students at the largest community college system in Illinois are ready to pursue careers or further their college education. The daunting four-fold strategy consists of:
"City Colleges' No. 1 priority is to provide our students with academic credentials of economic value that prepare them with relevant skills to win the jobs of today and tomorrow," says Hyman, an alumna of City Colleges.
Committed to Education
Thanks partly to more than $1.5 million in grants from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the Reinvention project is nearing its final stages. The funding speaks to the Searle family's ongoing support to strengthen the quality of education in Chicago and guarantee that students at the City Colleges are ready to be key drivers of the city's economic engine.
"The Reinvention project builds upon our long-term commitment to educational transformation in Chicago," says Nydia Searle, a Searle family consultant for the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. "The city's ability to provide high-quality education and workforce development will determine its future, and this project supports a critical piece of that pipeline."
Facing the Problem
At its lowest, only 7 percent of the seven campuses' students graduated on time. Only 16 percent of those students transferred to a four-year university. More than 90 percent of the student population needed remediation. What's more, City Colleges was losing 54 percent of its students after the first semester.
"The falling off point is when students have to move from one level to the next," says Peggy Mueller, senior program officer for education at the Trust. "The project will no doubt address very well the reorganization of the system, which is clearly imperative."
Mueller adds that the Reinvention of the City Colleges "is consistent with the goals the Trust has been supporting in developing a regional plan for education."
The Searle grants were awarded in 2010 and 2011 to the Civic Consulting Alliance, which has helped to facilitate the project. The CCA pulled together a team that consisted of its staff and business leaders who provided their expertise on a pro bono basis: McKinsey & Company, Accenture, KPMG LLP, Lantern Partners Inc. and CDW Corp.
Working with CCA and business partners, Hyman launched eight task forces that included the colleges' presidents, vice presidents and chancellors. Faculty, staff and students also were on the teams. Several changes have been underway to quickly address the needs of students.
To prepare students for four-year colleges, City Colleges has doubled its dual-enrollment program, allowing high school students to take college credit courses for free. It also created the Level Up program, which provides high school graduates a comprehensive overview of math and English.
The City Colleges also developed wellness centers that offer students social and emotional counseling on each campus. The ratio of advisors to students has increased, and those advisors are more proactive in their efforts to acknowledge student concerns. City Colleges also has implemented an early alert system to identify students who need additional support.
Through its College to Careers program, the community college system is working with industries—ranging from health care to information technology—to make students career ready.
"The four goals of the reinvention have guided the process from the start, and every initiative that's coming out of the effort ties to our goals," says Alvin Bisarya, City Colleges' vice chancellor of strategy and institutional intelligence.
"We are seeing some impact," Bisarya says. "But it's going to take some time to see some solid measures of change at City Colleges."