City Colleges of Chicago is in the midst of an overhaul in which each school is being redesigned as a training center for a leading local business sector.
Each of the seven campuses has a specific career focus, such as health care at Malcolm X, advanced manufacturing at Richard J. Daley, and transportation, distribution and logistics at Olive-Harvey. The system reports a graduation rate of 17 percent now, up from an abysmal 7 percent in 2010. Nationwide, community college graduation rates are relatively low, with the best-performing large, urban systems posting rates in the mid-20 percent range.
"We're not where we need to be and nowhere near where we want to be, but we're on our way to proving wrong those who doubted our students," Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said during a recent speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.
Across the region, efforts to link education to the increasingly digital work world are cropping up, including programs at some Chicago Public Schools, Wheeling High School, Harper College and National Louis University.
High-tech corporations helped design classes at five Chicago public high schools, for instance, and those students have the option of enrolling in college coursework, too, with the aim of completing an associate's degree at the end of six years. Motorola Solutions is one of the corporate backers of Chicago's Early College Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Schools, designed to put CPS students onto a fast track toward careers in information technology and engineering.
Motorola Solutions Foundation executive director Matt Blakely said such a program "answers the question, 'Why do I need to learn this?' for many of these students. It's also a great way for a student who may have lost interest in math or engineering to give them a way to reignite their interest."