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This year, the state budget impasse has meant that federal pass-through dollars funding adult education have not been distributed to community colleges.

This year, the state budget impasse has meant that federal pass-through dollars funding adult education have not been distributed to community colleges. Oakton is committed to its many adult education programs, and it is pursuing the use of institutional reserves to make up for this gap in funding for these important programs.


Viewpoint: Joianne L. Smith, president, Oakton Community College


Skills gained through adult and workforce education programs transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. Without the right skills, people are kept at the margins of society, technological progress does not adequately translate into economic growth, and enterprises can’t compete in today’s increasingly complex, globally connected world.

According to a 2010 report by the College Board, entitled Education Pays, workers with a high school credential earn $9,500 more per year, on average, than those without. Those earning associate’s degrees earn about $8,200 more than those with a high school diploma, and those with a bachelor’s degree earn nearly $22,000 per year than a student with a high school credential.

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People are continually looking for ways to improve their skill sets and abilities in order to advance their careers. While traditional educational attainment provides one route to a productive career, it is not the only path. Millions of people use alternative educational vehicles to obtain learning and skills that have real labor market value and returns.

In addition to its many degree programs, Oakton offers a variety of educational programs other than academic degrees that have labor market value through its continuing education and workforce development programs. Approximately 25,000 residents are enrolled in these community education offerings that include accounting, medical coding and billing, small engine and auto repair, computer aided design, information systems, project management, marketing, social media, foreign languages and personal enrichment courses.

In Evanston alone, more than 1,200 residents are enrolled in more than 500 classes. In fact, Evanston Township High School hosts 74 different class sections that serve more than 500 students.

The college also offers GED programs in communities across the district to help our residents on the path to a better life. Approximately 900 are enrolled in such programs, and for some, this is a pathway to furthering their education at Oakton and beyond.

Free literacy classes at Oakton’s Skokie campus as well as community locations in the district help about 1,000 native and non-native English speakers improve their reading. Low-cost English as a second language (ESL) courses are helping more than 3,000 immigrants assimilate into American society.

For those already in the workforce, Oakton’s Alliance for Lifelong Learning provides approved continuing education for health professionals such as social workers, professional and clinical professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, nursing home administrators, audiologists and speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and psychologists among others in the health field.

Partnerships with local businesses such as Woodward MPC and Abt Electronics illustrate Oakton’s commitment to helping local business and industry stay competitive. Oakton has a successful track record of filling the skills gap for companies like these.

John Rubeo, Woodward’s manager of prototype manufacturing, says, “Our backs are against the wall trying to find well-trained employees. There is a big gap between those highly skilled workers reaching retirement age and the young workers taking their place. We need to fill the gap as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Woodward Skokie entered into a two-year work-study program with Oakton to meet this need. Prospective students enroll into Oakton’s Manufacturing Technology Certificate or Associate in Applied Science degree programs and work between 20 and 32 hours a week at Woodward, and all fees, tuition and book expenses are paid by Woodward while the student fulfills the requirements of the program.

Workshops, courses, and other customized training solutions help to increase our partner organizations’ capacity to succeed. Oakton provides Abt a customized apprentice training program geared towards teaching future service technicians the most advanced techniques in appliance and electronics repair, HVAC installation and service.

Finally, for those 55 and over, Oakton’s Emeritus program offers a variety of credit and noncredit classes geared to the needs of the lifelong learner. Emeritus programs engage approximately 2,000 residents in a variety of topics of interest to them. Many come for the thought-provoking classes and interesting discussions and keep enrolling in the classes because of the social aspects and the friends they make.

Among the basic tenets of our society is the strong relationship between education and personal achievement, and community colleges play an important role in fostering the attainment of educational goals and preparing the workforce to compete globally. I join in calling for a resolution to the budget stalemate so that the important work being done at community colleges in the area of adult education can be continued.

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