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By Paul Bradley  /  
2014 February 17 - 12:00 am

COVER STORY: Winds of Reform

Photo courtesy City Colleges of Chicago
Richard J. Daley College has a focus on advanced manufacturing.  

C  O  V  E  R    S  T  O  R  Y

Winds of Reform
Two Chicago Colleges Among The Nation’s Fastest-Growing
By Paul Bradley

The gusts of higher education reform are blowing with gale force through the Windy City.

Once considered a deeply troubled urban institution where enrollment was plummeting, graduation rates were dismal and degrees held little value, the City Colleges of Chicago are undergoing a turnaround under the leadership of Chancellor Cheryl Hyman.

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Since her arrival from the corporate world in 2010, the seven-college system has been restructured to better meet workforce needs. Graduation rates are on the rise. The total number of CCC completers exceeded 10,000 in fiscal year 2013, reaching the milestone two years ahead of projections.

And enrollment is increasing, too. According to CCWeek’s annual analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS) statistics, two CCC colleges now rank among than nation’s fastest-growing.

Every year, Community College Week publishes its “Fastest-Growing Community Colleges” edition, providing a comparison of enrollments from one year to the next. The data isn’t intended to render judgment on the quality of colleges included in our listings, but rather provide a quantitative snapshot of enrollment trends. The paper recognizes, though, that colleges sitting atop the fastest-growing listings often claim bragging rights as they strive to muster support from their various constituencies.

Among the largest colleges — those with enrollments of more than 10,000 students, which enroll the bulk of community college students — the fastest-growing was Monterey Peninsula College in California, which experienced a 12 percent increase between Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 (see charts, pages 8-9).

Some of the nation’s largest colleges are represented in the listings. Enrollment at Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest community college, increased by 4.7 percent, the ninth-fastest rate in the country among large colleges, to more than 66,000 students. Northern Virginia Community College experienced a 3.6 percent increase to nearly 52,000 students.

In general, however, enrollments increases between 2011 and 2012 were smaller than in the recent past, reflecting an overall drop in college enrollments.

But the listings were also notable for a rarity: the inclusion of two institutions from a single college system among the country’s fastest-growing.

Among colleges with enrollments of fewer than 10,000 students but more than 5,000, Richard J. Daley College, was the nation’s fastest-growing between 2011 and 2012, with an increase of 14.1 percent. Enrollment jumped from 8,250 students to 9,410, an increase of 1,160.

In the same size category, Olive-Harvey College ranked as the nation’s eighth fastest-growing college, with an enrollment increase of 8.3 percent. Enrollment increased from 4,617 students to 5,001.

The statistics buck a national trend that has seen declines in enrollment at colleges around the country. After years of rapid growth, U.S. higher education enrollment is in retreat.

CCWeek’s analysis of the IPEDS statistics showed that between 2011 an 2012, enrollment at 2-year associate-degree granting colleges dropped by 4 percent. Among all colleges and universities, enrollment dropped by 2 percent over the same time span.

But in Chicago, community college enrollment is on an upward path.

“The strong recent enrollment gains at Daley and Olive-Harvey stem in part from strategic efforts to realign our programs with the demands of employers and four-year colleges alike and target our adult education offerings to community needs,” Hyman said.

In an email, college spokesman Jeremy Gantz elaborated. He wrote “the enrollment gains at Olive-Harvey College and Daley College are a result of City Colleges’ ongoing Reinvention reform efforts and the College to Careers initiative, through which we have strategically realigned our programs to better meet the demands of four-year colleges and employers and ensure our students are prepared for further college and careers.”

Launched in 2011, College to Careers links the colleges with industry leaders in high-growth fields to address the skills gap in the local workforce. The initiative enlists industry partners to work with faculty and staff in redesigning occupational program curricula and facilities to better match the needs of employers.

The College to Careers program gives each college in the system a specific vocational mission. Richard J. Daley College, for example, is focusing on a high-tech manufacturing niche, and has seen significant enrollment increases in that program.

But most of the gains at Daley College came from a restructuring of adult education programs.

“Throughout the 2012-13 academic year, City Colleges implemented a comprehensive strategy to align its adult education offerings with the need in Chicago’s neighborhoods,” Gantz wrote. “In Fall 2012, new adult education instruction off-sites affiliated with Daley opened, offering free ESL and GED classes. This is a key reason for enrollment gains in Daley’s adult education program in Fall 2012 compared to Fall 2011.”

“We expect continued enrollment gains in occupational programs at Daley College, where employee-validated advanced manufacturing programs launched through College to Careers in Fall 2013. Advanced manufacturing program enrollment at Daley College grew 40 percent between Fall 2013 to Fall 2012.”

Olive-Harvey College, meanwhile, is focusing on logistics and transportation. The college recently broke ground on a $45 million, 103,000 square-foot Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL) Center. CCC projects there will be 110,000 jobs in this sector over the next decade.

Olive-Harvey’s enrollment swelled when the city’s public passenger vehicle chauffeur programs (taxi and limousine) moved from Harold Washington College to Olive-Harvey.

CCC’s Reinvention initiative is a four-year-old, systemwide, top-to-bottom overhaul intended to achieve four overarching goals: increasing the number of students earning degrees, increasing the transfer rate to four-year institutions, improving outcomes for students needing remediation and increasing the number of adult education and English as a second language students advancing to college-level courses. The reform effort is designed to create a student-centered culture of success driven by data, accountability and transparency.

“Through the ongoing Reinvention and College to Careers initiatives, we are laser-focused on student success,” Hyman said. “City Colleges continues to make steady progress toward ambitious enrollment, retention and completion goals and works toward becoming a best-in-class community college that puts students on the path to further college and careers.”

Last year, CCC adopted its first five-year plan, outlining goals in key academic and operational areas. The overall goal of the plan is ambitious: to place among the elite among large, urban community colleges. City Colleges selected 24 key metrics to assess academic outcomes, and a recent progress report showed that the college met or exceeded 20 of the 24 metrics. Among other notable indicators, the report showed that CCC graduation rate has nearly doubled since Reinvention, reaching 13 percent.

“Our Reinvention strategy is about rebuilding our community college system into a best-in-class educational institution that ensures our students’ success with a commitment to accountability and transparency,” Hyman said. “By setting and reaching these critical, measurable goals — students graduating at a record rate, increasing the number of credentials awarded, and launching our College to Careers program — we are delivering better real-world outcomes for students who prepared to go on to further college and pursue a career.”

It’s Your Turn CCW wants to hear from you!
Q:  What is your college doing to boost enrollment as overall community college enrollment declines?
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