Welcome to the Spotlight

Please engage in a thought experiment with me.

You are the Mayor of Chicago. You have an opportunity to talk to the Economic Club of Chicago (ECC). ECC members are the corporate elite of Chicago – CEOs, Chairmen, Directors, and Managing Partners and Directors of companies such as Walgreens, Aon, McDonalds, Accenture, JP Morgan Chase, Madison-Dearborn Partners, Deloitte, Rush University Medical Center, and Sara Lee. As Mayor, you may have two or three opportunities to address this group over each of your four-year terms. Over 1,200 people will gather to listen to your speech.

You have had a dynamic and energetic start as Mayor. You have taken on tough issues and scored early wins. You are wrestling with significant budget shortfalls in the context of the greatest recession the US has seen in over 70 years. You aspire to keep Chicago as a great, global city. You are committed to improving outcomes for students in K-12 education, putting more police officers on the street, and making Chicago’s environment friendlier to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What do you talk about? What issue do you want to bring to this august gathering of business and civic leaders? What key message do you want to communicate, and in turn, what is the ask? What actions do you want this audience to take? What will you inspire them to do differently tomorrow?

Last night, Mayor Emanuel talked about the importance of City Colleges of Chicago to the future of Chicago. We were not one in a list of major initiatives and policy ideas – we were the whole enchilada. The Mayor talked about CCC as an essential centerpiece to his strategy to link qualified employees with the jobs that Chicago employers cannot fill, even in this recession. Time and again, he mentioned Olive-Harvey, Malcolm X, Harold Washington and our sister schools. He told of meeting a student at the 35th Street Red Line stop who, in the Mayor’s words, is “doing everything right.” This student is holding down a full-time job at a Target distribution warehouse and attending school at Harold Washington. He asked what we – meaning we in the room, the business community, and CCC – what we are doing to ensure this student receives the education he needs to put him on a path to success in Chicago.

I was sitting in the room. I was moved by the times the Mayor was interrupted by applause as he outlined his vision for CCC’s role in Chicago’s future. He then made the pitch, asking the leaders in the room to join CCC in achieving this future. Those leaders embraced the Mayor’s vision. My wife, no stranger to big effing deals, leaned over to me and said, “This is a really big deal.” It is. It is incredibly energizing to know that Mayor Emanuel supports our efforts to make CCC an economic engine of the city. I have already had business leaders reach out to me to ask how they can get involved at HWC.

With this charge comes responsibility. CCC and Harold Washington can no longer toil in the obscure backwaters of higher ed. Our actions will now come under scrutiny, and the business community, having been asked to help, will begin asking what we are doing to hold up our end of the bargain. I want to note that the Mayor did not ask us to walk away from our liberal arts responsibilities, but he did ask for us to re-focus and re-energize the industry-specific training we will offer.

I have already started talking to a small number of faculty about what Harold Washington might become in the months and years ahead. I have asked for ideas, supporting data, and plans. I look forward to additional discussions with faculty and staff on what we need to do to fulfill our role in the Mayor’s vision. I look forward to planning for our role in helping our students achieve their career goals. I look forward to making HWC a centerpiece in the CCC strategy.

Welcome to the Spotlight.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with higher education, non-profit and private-sector consulting experience.

12 thoughts on “Welcome to the Spotlight

  1. As a Harold Washington student, I am very thankful to see that people out there are trying to improve our schools and are trying to boost our education through many different angles. I do believe that college students are Chicagos Future, the better the education and the better Environment will help Chicago as a whole in the future. If i was a Mayor, my first priority would be CCC. It would be my first priority because young college students are Chicagos Future, the city will be runned under them. I would change the cost of education/books, i would make it easier to take loans for schools so that students can get the best education with no stuggle. If i was a mayor, i would deffinetly want to be remembered after 10 years as “oh, without him, chicago wouldnt be the same”. I do appreciate Emmanuel’s effort on trying to improve the chicago colleges. I hope that Improving the Chicago Colleges is the Mayors first priority because it will pay off in the later years when this city is controlled by educated Lawyers/doctors/senators etc. Do you want to improve Chicago to be a better city? Focus on Chicago Colleges and make it easier for students to get the best education.

    Thank you

  2. I am a 52 year old divorced black woman returning to school to get my degree after 30 years. The job market took me from a $40,000 a year job down to $16,000. It was at this time that my eldest daughter suggested returning to school to receive my degree and suggested Harold Washington where she is currently attending. It is a bit frightening and exciting to be in the classroom again. I see a true melting pot of students, all ages and races in the same room looking for the same knowledge. It is truly a wonderful thing. I read the Mayor’s speech and was a bit surprised by the comments that followed.

    I can see the vision the mayor has for the community college system and I applaud his forward thinking. We have jobs that can not be filled with the available workforce and people with little or no skills filling the unemployment rolls because of a lack of education or skill set. Was this not the purpose of the community college system in the beginning? Have we reduced it to remedial training?

    This is not why I am here. I graduated top of my high school class, attended Purdue University before leaving to become a wife and mother. I am here to get a fresh start and I am very impressed with the teachers I currently have.

    To partner with private industry and create curriculum that will give graduates a real chance at employment is a noble effort. To think this will limit or change the scope of the college system I believe is short sighted thinking. I did not read that the mayor wanted to replace the current curriculum, just add to them.

    If we don’t begin to think ahead we will continue to fall behind. I am proud of this city and wish to be a contributing member to its growth.

  3. Rahm Emanuel’s speech to the economic club about improving Chicago’s 2-year institutions was needed. He is right by saying that these colleges are valuable. They are academically and economically valuable. I currently attend HWC. I have been there for over five semesters. HWC has given me an opportunity to grow academically. Stronger 2-year institutions will produce a stronger work force.

  4. Mayor Emanuel’s plan transform City Colleges Chicago into vocational training machines is certainly good for business and unskilled workers but it also has unintended consequences for everyone else. For the twenty-six year old delivery driver who muddled through high school only to land a job driving a truck for a beer distributor, the community college represents his last link to upward mobility when and if he eventually discovers that he has more to contribute to society than his mundane job allows. In his speech introducing his transformation plan Mayor Emanuel’s said, “Let’s be candid: most community colleges offer students what they should have learned in high school. Too often, they provide remedial learning to compensate for gaps in their education. That is not why our community college system was established.” His sentiments towards the burden community colleges experience while attempting to compensate for gaps in education were affirmed by Don Lackman, the president of Harold Washington College, in his blog response to Mayor Emanuel’s plan when he wrote, “CCC and Harold Washington can no longer toil in the backwaters of higher education.”
    At this very moment the City Colleges of Chicago are crammed with 127,000 students compensating for gaps in education and toiling in the backwaters of higher education. While each of them took a different path to get there, almost all have one thing in common. Each of them is a product of the public school system and graduated lacking the academic skills or social economic support necessary to begin at a four-year college. The statistics demonstrate that many of these students won’t make it and for them, maybe Mayor Emanuel’s plan of focused vocational training will prove to be a better option. But I also have to wonder about the very student Mayor Emanuel describes in his speech. The young man who currently works at a warehouse while attending a city college to study business and computers. What will become of him in a vocational focused training program? Well, considering his business competition will hold MBA’s from Booth and Kellogg his chances of breaking into the executive suite at a fortune five hundred company wielding an associates degree from Harold Washington City College are minimal. Not to worry though, at least he can go onto become a happy computer programmer, right? Maybe and if so, good for him but maybe he wont. What if after spending seven years repeating monotonous programming task in a cubical he wakes up one day feeling as though the only difference between him and the afore mentioned delivery driver is their annual salary. Only time will tell but the point is that many Americans take the wrong career paths early in their lives and community colleges play a vital role for those who haven’t given up on improving their lives as adults. A person’s ability to get into a four-year university and continue onto graduate school should not be exclusively limited to those who performed well in high school. Bridging the education gap by providing the remedial education for those who did not achieve academic excellence as teenagers is something that community colleges should be proud to do. Turning out associate degrees in diesel technology might be great for Caterpillar, but not so much for the individual trying to better their life by bridging their way into a four-year university. In closing the educational gap and breaking into the more lucrative professions for which a bachelor’s degree is required, these Have Nots are often the first in their family to enjoy the benefits that many high school valedictorians grew up with.
    The mayor and the city college presidents might be onto something though. If they don’t feel like they can adequately provide the foundation of a four-year university education at all of the city colleges, they should pool the resources and designate one college to closing the educational gap. Though it might sounds far fetched, imagine one college with a single focus on transferring students to a four-year university. If it works for the transportation and health care industries, shouldn’t it work for education too?

  5. As A Harold Washington student and a mother, I know the importance of a dollar. Without the help of the city and FAFSA, I would still be in the same place I was then, an unproductive state of mind. It is good to know Mayor Emmanuel is on the side of the student and is concerned about our welfare. I think Harold Washington,among the rest of the sister colleges) will prosper in thrive in this new enriched enviorment. Thank you Rahm Emmanuel and all who is pushing us to greatness!

  6. This is my first year attending a college and it is pretty exciting because I am the first one in the family to do so. As a student at Harold Washington College and first time experiencing situations like this I absolutely see that the students of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) are the future of Chicago because as young teens they want to have a career and be something in the near future. I really thank all the people that are pushing through and being on the side of us (student) and want to prove the way we are getting our education. looking at this situation from the economic side i see that it is important to have the CCC on the top list. Also that Emmanuel is concerned about our future as student and also Chicago’s people. Again thanks to Emmanuel and everyone who is pushing through this to make us have the best of education.

  7. It is very refreshing to hear that the mayor supports the Community Colleges of the Chicago land area and the concept of the community colleges as a whole. It is very nice to see hear that he will do what he can to help those trying to better themselves and the community. I believe that community colleges are important because its a great way to meet all your basic college requirements at a cost efficient matter so that one can possibly pursue a bachelor’s degree at a a four year institution without the 4yr cost. I think that businesses should help as much as they can because they benefit; for example if restaurants that are around the HWC campus would help with donations in the long run they would prosper because many students go to those places and spend money and they would be able to financially prosper and have good graces with the students. In my opinion its nice that the mayor is doing what he can for CCC.

  8. As a current student and full time employee of a non important job, i think students still dont get enough credit for what they do outside of their time in school. I rely heavily on the school to be punctual for meetings and appointments. All you do is get hassled and get the run around 90% of the time. I think, from personal experience that instead of creating a better school to learn in, which should always be the top goal anyway.. that the school should invest in easier procedures to enroll, access financial aid and the registrars office.

  9. I think it is great that the mayor is on the side of the students. We students at a community college need to be ensured that we are also going to receive a good education. We all want to succeed in life and have a great career in the future. I think that it would be better if the costs for books should be decreased because most students can not afford them. Moreover, I’m thankful that the CCC provide financial aid because it helps us out a lot. I hope that the mayor focuses on the CCC because evidently we are part of Chicago’s future.

  10. The City Colleges are a great place for those that want to continue their education while working. If one wants to become more knowledgeable in the area in which they are working, taking courses at City Colleges is very helpful. Also one does not have to stop at the City Colleges unless they want to, Mayor Emanuel will make the City Colleges become the growth of many strong workers out there and with his help, the credits we complete will still transfer to a 4 year institution. All the Mayor wants to do is have a goal for those that simply want to study at a low cost to get a job or simply a promotion in their present job. And I think the the Mayor is doing a good thing because in this economy every student should have a back up plan.

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