During the first half of this year the IBHE partnered with numerous state agencies, employers, and non-profits to lead the development of recommendations to better align college credential production and current and future workforce needs at the regional level. The legislatively created Higher Education Commission on the Future of the Workforce released its final report on August 15. Our deep thanks go to the Commissioners who so expeditiously reviewed data, practice, and policy issues and belied the stereotype that higher education efforts move slowly. The IBHE secured extramural funding to support the work of the Commission during the budget crisis and now, in partnership with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has competed successfully for additional private funds to implement its recommendations. This work will be part of a major national initiative launched by USA Funds focused on Completion with a Purpose®.
Across the nation higher education and policy leaders are increasingly focused on the outcomes for college graduates. Previously in this space I documented the growing value of a college credential in the U.S. and Illinois’ economy. A college credential is more valuable today than ever. Those without them have little chance for a middle class life. Years ago the primary focus of college opportunity advocacy groups was college access. It was believed that if college opportunity efforts managed to place students (especially underserved students) on a college campus the work was done. Then, once it became clear how many enrolled students never finished the focus rightly shifted to access and completion. Today the Holy Grail for higher education is equitable and high completion rates for all students. Now another dimension is being added to the access and completion agenda: post college completion outcomes. More and more policy makers and students are asking the question, “Completion for what?” Colleges are being asked to track and improve career outcomes for students in ways that address regional and state workforce needs. The Illinois Commission’s work puts the state on the cutting edge of that work.
The Commission’s findings call for: a coordinated plan to achieve Illinois’ goal of 60% of its adult population with a high quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2025; a publicly available statewide data system that will track and measure both employer demand and the supply of available workers with postsecondary credentials and degrees, using a regional focus; and the establishment of regional cross-sector approaches to engage both higher education and business and industry stakeholders as partners in economic development.
At the September 27, 2016 IBHE Board meeting at St Xavier University in Chicago, the focus will be on those recommendations and effective strategies to implement them at the regional level. Four Illinois regions of Greater Egypt, Madison County, Northeastern Illinois, and Rockford have been selected as sites for the initial launch of the Commission work. Each of these regions’ cross-sector collaborations (i.e., education, business, political, and community based organizations) will (a) identify key areas of workforce need (e.g., health care, energy, advanced manufacturing, (b) assess current college credential production to meet those needs, and (c) create cross-sector partnerships to increase capacity where needed and redesign of program offerings to make them more accessible to more students (e.g., adults with some college but no degree). These regional efforts will integrate the good work that has already been done as part of the development of the federally mandated WIOA plan and the Illinois Community College Board’s Workforce Education Strategic planning process. The IBHE and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) have signed data sharing agreements, a first in Illinois, to connect higher education and workforce data to provide a sustainable data base to inform all of this work.
These are difficult times in Illinois. However, thanks to the dedication of the multiple state agencies and non-profits that have supported the work of the Commission, in addition to the work of the Commission itself, Illinois is setting the stage to ensure a maximum ROI for the increases in college attainment achieved through our 60 x 2025 efforts.