Waubonsee works to help students complete credentials

By on January 26, 2013

SUGAR GROVE—When Waubonsee Community College students stop by a special “Graduation Station” at the Sugar Grove Campus next month, they’ll receive information on how to apply for a degree or certificate online, and watch clips of the college’s annual graduation ceremony.

What they won’t see are all of the behind-the-scenes projects the college has undertaken to ease their paths across the stage, and at the same time, answer the national and state calls to completion.

Since the 2009 launch of its Project Graduation initiative, Waubonsee has nearly doubled the number of its students earning a complete certificate or degree—from 1,271 completers in 2009 to 2,411 in 2012. Such progress can be attributed to a variety of factors.

“Project Graduation has allowed us to take a hard look at a variety of different factors that influence student success and completion,” said Dr. Deborah Lovingood, executive vice president of Educational Affairs/Chief Learning Officer. “Some of the things that grew out of the initiative were greater accessibility, optimized curriculum and streamlined services.”

With the opening of new comprehensive campuses in downtown Aurora and Plano in 2011, Waubonsee students can now earn a complete degree at three of the college’s four campuses.

Those degrees require less time and expense than they used to. After examining all of the transfer and occupational associate degree requirements, the college decided to revise most of them in order to maximize transferability and get students out into the workforce more quickly.

In addition to modifying its academic programs, Waubonsee has also improved graduation-related student services. An online degree audit tool is now available, allowing students to track their own progress toward completion, as well as analyze “what-if” scenarios for a few different programs. The certificate and degree application process, formerly done via paperwork and in-person meetings, was also moved online for student convenience.

Waubonsee is even helping transfer students who left the college short of completion, thanks to new “reverse transfer” agreements with Northern Illinois University, DePaul University and Roosevelt University.

“These agreements allow students who transferred from Waubonsee to complete their associate degrees at the same time they are earning the baccalaureate,” Lovingood said. “A seamless transfer process that goes both ways serves everyone and demonstrates the interdependence of our institutions.”

All of these steps have been taken because college credentials matter to students’ futures.

“Finishing a certificate or associate degree can be very motivating for students,” said Kelli Sinclair, dean for Counseling and Student Support. “We encourage students to feel good about it and mark that success with their family. Plus, credentials help students earn more in the job market. Employers are often looking for a complete credential rather than a list of courses taken.”

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2011 unemployment rate for individuals with associate degrees was 1.9 percent lower than those who had some college credit and 2.6 percent lower than those with only a high school diploma. Degree holders make an average of $2,500 more each year than their peers without a degree, and $6,700 more each year than those with only high school diploma.

With numbers like this, it’s no wonder that the issue of college completion has become such a hot topic at the national and state levels. President Barack Obama sounded a call to action in 2009 in the form of the American Graduation Initiative, with a goal of producing an additional five million community college graduates by 2020.

This national call was echoed by the State of Illinois as Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon toured the state’s 48 community colleges in 2010-11 and then released her “Illinois Community Colleges: Focus on the Finish” report. That report set the goal of increasing the proportion of working-age adults with meaningful career certificates and degrees from today’s 41 percent to 60 percent by 2025.