This summer, City Colleges is launching a new summer program aimed at preparing incoming Chicago Public Schools graduates for college-level work. Level Up will offer five weeks of classes and tutoring in reading, writing and math for up to 200 CPS grads whose placement test scores for City Colleges show they need remedial coursework. Nearly 90 percent of incoming students—a majority of whom are from CPS—need remedial work in one or more subjects, according to City Colleges.
The program takes aim at one of the goals of City Colleges’ “reinvention” effort: to help raise the academic success of new students who need remedial work, according to Chancellor Cheryl Hyman. Hyman, a pick of former Mayor Daley, was reappointed to the job by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Contributing Editor Cassandra West spoke recently with Hyman about her job and what ‘reinvention’ should accomplish.
Your background doesn’t include education. Why are you a good fit as chancellor?
I do claim to be a leader who can build a very good team to move this institution forward. Being a graduate of this institution (Hyman graduated from Olive-Harvey, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois Institute of Technology and master’s degrees from North Park University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management), the one thing that I do know is what it’s like being a student here. Our students need the hope that I had walking through the door.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had since becoming chancellor?
How hard it is to change the culture of an institution, even when everybody agrees change is needed. The whole paradigm of community colleges —access for everybody — I agree with. But at some point we have to couple that with success.
Talk about the “reinvention” effort.
Currently, there are about 60 faculty, staff and students who are examining how to improve all major aspects of our institution. There are eight internal task forces. They’re working with external experts from the business community, academic and civic groups. They’re also working with their peers within the institution. We have four goals. One is to increase the number of students earning college credentials of economic value. The second is to increase the rate of transfers to bachelor’s degree programs. The third is to dramatically improve outcomes for students requiring remediation. And the fourth is to increase the number of adult education, ESL and GED students who advance to succeed at college-level courses.
College presidents had to reapply for their jobs. Is that process still going on?
The board of trustees and I believe that we all have to be held accountable. In the previous job descriptions, there was no mention of academic objectives. The decision to hold a nationwide search for candidates will ensure that City Colleges has made every attempt to find the best leadership. The current presidents were encouraged to reapply.
How is curriculum being reassessed as part of reinvention?
We have seen that there are many programs that we need to bridge together, or that are missing a piece. But we’ve also seen great opportunity for programs that we don’t offer yet but should. What we’re focusing on now is occupational programs– health care, business, IT or manufacturing–where we have some strength already.
We’re also looking at our transfer classes. One of the issues that many of our students are faced with is getting a two-year degree or being here two or three years, and then only half their credits transfer. We’re looking at why that happens.
When will you know City Colleges have been successfully reinvented?
There is no timeline. Reinvention needs to be permanent and ongoing or else things just become flavors of the month.
Is there anything you can look at to say we’ve made some changes, advances? Or is it too early?
One of the troubling facts we ran across is why do 54 percent of our students leave without completing at least one semester’s worth of credits in three years? We think a big contributor to that [is] our student-to-adviser ratio, 920-to-1, on average. We just recently hired new advisers. We’ve brought it down about 25 percent. That’s still too high.
We’re [also] giving 2,100 students a designated adviser to provide counseling and track their progress through the course of a semester.
We’re giving students access to new technology. We’re trying to create 21st century learning environment.
In [the past] year, we did see our graduation rate increase by 1 percent.
How do you improve the public image of City Colleges so that people view it as a legitimate high-quality option?
The first thing we need to do is start sharing the good stories like mine. The other thing we’re doing is external advisory groups. Creating a strong relationship with [businesses], with four-year institutions, putting in place the things that we need to prepare our students. That changes the reputation.
NOTE: Students interested in Level Up can attend one of two remaining orientation sessions: June 9, 4 p.m. at CPS Area 24 office, 11424 S. Western Ave.; and June 21, 4 p.m. at Olive-Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave.