Baker Report: Fortifying the P-20 Pipeline

NIU President Doug Baker addresses members of the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network.
NIU President Doug Baker speaks Sept. 9 to members
of the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network.

People across Illinois continue to look toward Springfield in the hopes of a resolution to the long budget stalemate that has created considerable worry for many state-funded institutions and initiatives.

NIU is working with faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters to make the case for higher education and its critical role in helping the state thrive. We still have a great deal of work to do.

For those of us at all levels of education, another critical and persistent crisis has been under way for many years – one that will require the best thinking and cooperation of all members of the P-20 continuum from pre-school through graduate school.

I’m talking about college and career readiness.

Far too few students graduate from college and are ready for their lives and careers. A sadly high percentage of students don’t graduate from high school or, if they do, graduate not ready for college or career. Many of these low success rates can be traced back to low performance in elementary school or challenges the students faced in the pre-school years.

Clearly, we need to address the complex issues along the educational continuum including the social context that the students experience outside of school.

So here’s the good news: I’m confident that our state can take this on – and I’m proud to say that NIU continues to take the lead with our P-20 Center headed by Marilyn Bellert and our collaborative and inspirational Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network.

That impressive group of leaders from regional school districts, community colleges, employers, and state agency officials met last week at our Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center to review the substantial work that our four committees completed over the last 12 months.

Flecia Thomas, dean of students at McHenry County College, reported on student support services.
Flecia Thomas, dean of students at McHenry County College, reported on student support services.

This work focused on regional strategies for student success, part of our promise to the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action: Our group is working to meet the state-adopted goal to boost the number of college-educated and certified adults in Illinois by 30,000 in the next decade.

Last week’s discussions were guided by a question we have been addressing over the last year: How can we collaborate to strengthen student pathways and transitions throughout the P-20 continuum and into career success?

One work group recommended the formation of the Illinois Prior Learning Assessment Alliance to recruit and retain students from our region who have earned some college credit but no degrees. We’ve already completed a survey of our community colleges to identify barriers for adult learners in their pursuit of postsecondary education, and now we’re sharing best practices to address those.

Participants also reviewed the implementation of several new reverse-transfer agreements between community colleges and NIU.

These agreements allow community college students to transfer to NIU prior to finishing their associate degree, but to then transfer NIU credits back to the community college and earn their associate’s diploma. Our agreements already in place are paying off with many students having earned reverse-transfer degrees and many more on their way.

We also formed a new work group to focus on collaborative projects that improve the preparation of children from birth through third-grade for success in school, family and community life. Nurturing early development of social, emotional and cognitive skills is an important piece of the educational success puzzle.

NIU’s Eric Weldy and Diana Robinson participated in the P-20 Network conference.
NIU’s Eric Weldy and Diana Robinson participated
in the P-20 Network conference.

Details on our significant progress, as well as the next steps we’re determined to take, are contained in a report sent to the White House to fulfill our commitment to update them on our progress.

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m confident that the bright future we’ve envisioned is within our reach. As I told the group, magical things happen when smart people work collaboratively toward common goals.

Please email president@niu.edu if you have any insights to share on this critical topic.

Forward together,

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