Illinois receives $1.6 million grant from Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity Initiative

“This is great news for Illinois,” says Illinois Community College Board Chair Alexi Giannoulias

Springfield—(ENEWSPF)—December 15, 2011. Helping adults in Illinois earn the credentials and skills they need to get and succeed in family-sustaining jobs are keys to fueling the economy and boosting employment. Jobs for the Future (JFF) has announced that the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) has been awarded a $1.6 million grant to support efforts to ensure more workers have the skills they need through innovative adult education that provides a valuable credential. The three-year grants are part of Accelerating Opportunity: A Breaking Through Initiative, supported by a strategic partnership of five of the nation’s leading philanthropies.

In Illinois alone, there are more than 1.8 million adults who lack a high school diploma. While more than 120,000 of these individuals are enrolled in adult basic education programs, a very small percentage of adult education students actually earn a post-secondary credential, with many leaving after only a semester or two. The trend will only continue.

By 2018, 64 percent of all jobs in Illinois will require workers with some form of post-secondary training beyond high school, according to a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. This situation only exacerbates the current difficulty employers across the state report in finding qualified workers who can fill skilled positions.

“This grant is huge for our State, our Colleges, and our business community. We are thrilled to be one of only four states to receive funding as it will help us train under-skilled individuals and help us meet the demand of Illinois employers looking for skilled workers,” said Alexi Giannoulias, the chair of the ICCB.

The Accelerating Opportunity program seeks to enhance the way adult basic education is delivered by putting adult students on track to earn a postsecondary credential so they can seize the opportunity to earn family-sustaining wages and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

“The fastest growing occupations in Illinois will require post secondary education and training; yet 42 percent of adults in Illinois have not completed any college-level coursework,” said Geoffrey Obrzut, the president and chief executive officer of the ICCB.  “To help reduce the unemployment rate, we need to increase the job skills and educational credentials of our workforce.”

Illinois was one of 11 states previously awarded a $200,000 design grant in August to support efforts to redesign adult basic education and postsecondary programs. After the design stage, the ICCB was eligible to compete for the implementation grant. Educational pathways to higher skills, credentials, and employment will be rigorously tested and independently evaluated. This evidence will be provided to philanthropy, labor, employers, adult education planners, and other stakeholders in Illinois and nationally to ensure that adult education programs lead to postsecondary credentials and good jobs.

“Many of our students are eager to get into the workforce to make self and family-sustaining wages but lack the basic skills to succeed in academic and career programs,” said Dr. Karen Hunter Anderson, vice president of adult education at ICCB.  “Students who complete certificate and degree programs can significantly increase their lifetime earnings.”

The Accelerating Opportunity program is informed by JFF’s Breaking Through initiative, which has promoted the support of 41 community colleges in 22 states to improve career pathways and postsecondary education for low-skilled adults. Accelerating Opportunity is funded by a collaboration of philanthropies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations. For program and implementation expertise, Jobs for the Future (JFF) has engaged the National Council on Workforce Education, National College Transition Network and the Washington State Board of Community & Technical Colleges as partners.

There are eight Illinois community colleges that will receive funding as part of this initiative: Daley College (one of the City Colleges of Chicago), College of Lake County, Danville Area Community College, Elgin Community College, Lake Land College, Lewis and Clark Community College, Lincoln Land Community College, and McHenry County College.

The Illinois Community College Board is the state coordinating board for community colleges and administrative agency for adult education and family literacy in Illinois. It comprises a chairperson and ten other members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, and a non-voting student member appointed by the ICCB Student Advisory Committee.

The Illinois Community College System is the third largest community college system in the nation and comprises 48 community colleges in 39 districts covering all of Illinois. Illinois community colleges annually serve approximately a million students in college transfer courses, workforce development, continuing education, and adult education programs.