System Overhaul: City Colleges Get a RevisionMay 9th, 2012 | By Lindsay Haymes
Since joining Civic Consulting Alliance in 2005 as the CEO, Brian Fabes has recruited a new leadership team that has built city-wide partnerships with more than 400 organizations and provided more than $20 million annually in consulting services to the Chicago region. Brian is a Board member of Year Up in Chicago, Chicago Career Tech, and the Civic Federation.
What is the CCA specifically working on with the Reinvention of the City Colleges of Chicago?
We got involved in the Community Colleges effort several years ago when Mayor Daley called and said we needed to reform education beyond K-12 in the City of Chicago. So, we put together a steering committee including the Head of the Chicago Community Trust, the Head of the Chicago Urban League, and a cross section of public and private sector leaders. And we asked the question: What should the role of the City Colleges be in Chicago?
Over the course of three or four months, working with the pro bono support of Boston Consulting Group, this group came up with a broad vision: the community colleges should be moving tens of thousands of Chicagoans to productive employment every year, either directly into the work force or into four-year institutions and from there to the workforce.
We also recognized the need to improve access to jobs that support families. What was amazing was that this group, composed of leaders from very different sectors, organizations and backgrounds, came up with one simple vision they all agreed with.
The mayor agreed with that vision, then went out and hired Cheryl Hyman as Chancellor of the City Colleges to make that happen. That was almost two years ago. We started talking very quickly into her tenure about how to turn the vision into reality, and together we came up with the specific goals of the reinvention:
- Increase the number of students earning college credentials of economic value
- Increase the rate of transfer to Bachelor’s degree programs following CCC graduation
- Drastically improve outcomes for students needing remediation
- Increase number and share of ABE/GED/ESL students who advance to and succeed in college-level courses
These goals really crystallized the driving force of the reinvention. Our work then went to putting together the mechanics of making this happen. We recruited McKinsey to develop, pro bono, the structure of Reinvention and help launch the initial phase. The result was the most comprehensive transformation effort of a community college system in the nation. No one else is trying to transform an entire system at one time.
How did Chicago’s private sector get involved in the specifics of Reinvention?
In addition to our work and McKinsey’s pro bono effort, Accenture made a big pro bono investment assessing the technology—not just students’ technology but back office technology. What kinds of IT will the colleges need in the future?
We realized there are a lot of meaty educational questions—when 90% of students need remediation how do you deal with that? At the same time, other things were imminently fixable. A music teacher couldn’t get a piano tuned for months because the procurement process was so complicated. KPG helped us, again pro bono, to sort out procurement. Mayor Daley was getting tweets from people saying, “I had to take two days off of work to register for classes.” In response, we assigned our own staff to help improve the registration process.
A lot of research surrounding college and career pathways discusses a successful transition into adulthood. Did a definition for ‘a successful transition into adulthood’ come up in this process?
The short answer is we have not discussed transitioning into adulthood because these students are adults. The average age is 29. Now, there’s a big spread there. But by any reasonable definition, they’re adults. The question we should be talking about is how do we get people into mainstream society? How do we help them improve economic mobility and prepare them to be productive citizens in a democratic society?
The tough discussions the colleges have are around topics like, ‘how do you transition someone from English as a Second Language courses into credit bearing programs?’ Or, ‘how do you transition someone from an Associate’s degree into a four year college?’ Or ‘from an occupational program into the first rung of a career?’ Those are the transitions we talk about.
It’s interesting that in all three of those transitions, one of the keys is to always be working with the next step up the ladder. Every bit of evidence, experience, and research suggests that successful occupational programs work with industry partners where students will start their careers. Successful remediation programs have remediation faculty working with the credit faculty so when students show up in credit courses they’re ready.
Similarly this is the case with transitions into four-year institutions. The colleges need to work directly with four-year institutions. It’s organizationally difficult to do this though; there are natural barriers that have to be worked through between these sectors.
What are the biggest potential challenges to collaborations between the City Colleges and companies in Chicago, like the partnership between Rush Medical Center and Malcom X College, actually leading to jobs for students?
I’m sure we’re on the right track. I have every confidence it’s going to work out. It’s going to take a lot of work. We have the right leadership and right civic folks who are willing to pitch in, because they know it’s in their long-term interest as well.
But there are other questions. What are the right career paths? Those are changing. How do people come in and out of careers? If we’re doing this right, you go through an occupational program, get into a career, then come back and get more education down the road. It takes thoughtfulness and hard work redesigning curricula. The colleges used to boast, ‘we have 200 programs!’ But that was very confusing. We need to simplify the paths and communicate to people what their options are and how they can get there.
Is there a strong effort within the City Colleges for career counseling? Are they making sure we have the students to fill these new programs?
There is an 11% unemployment rate in Chicago. For some segments of the population unemployment approaches 50%. There is no shortage of people who need these jobs. There is a supply and demand mismatch.
On the supply side there are a couple of big problems. One we’re talking about: people don’t know where the careers are. The federal government publishes labor data no average citizen can figure out. Those data are a very nice place to start, but then there’s the other 98% of the answer when you actually talk to employers. The Colleges must look at different the career paths out there, then work to communicate and disseminate
Recent research has come out saying that by 2018 30% of jobs will only require an Associate’s degree. How do we balance the ‘college is for everyone’ mentality with workforce training and creating a more-educated and well-trained workforce, which may not always translate to four-year college degrees?
That’s a very good question and it’s a very emotional one. There is no question that the more education you have the more options you will have. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs or wants a Ph.D. Is there a tipping point or break point in all this?
The data suggest those with just a high school diploma, even if it’s from a very good high school or good technical program, are unlikely to have the option to participate in our society fully. It turns out those with a high school diploma plus a post-secondary credential have significantly more options, and can usually access further education. This is what President Obama has talked about, and what Advance Illinois has set as a goal for Illinois: high school plus a credential for everyone. Personally, I see that goal as what needs to be the minimum societal commitment.
We can get you there, and if people want to go on further they should have those options.
Feature photo: cc/Jeff Wilcox