Reinventing Chicago

The Chicago Tribune launched an effort in this morning’s Sunday paper called “A New Plan of Chicago.” The paper seeks to enlist the help of “civic groups, foundations, community organizations and individuals.” They want to model their effort on Daniel Burnham’s vision laid out in 1909. They will run editorials over the next eight weeks offering ideas on the public schools, the jobs gap, and other societal issues. It is an admirable effort, and I applaud any organization that engages people in a discussion on how to improve this great, global city.

I was also struck by and a little proud of the model they are using for this effort. In laying out “What the goal is,” The Tribune cites City Colleges’ Reinvention initiative as a model that holistically addresses societal issues of crime and underemployment. It is easy in the daily crush of emails, meetings, status reports, grievance hearings and crisis interventions to lose sight of the bigger picture. Through the efforts of faculty, staff and students, Reinvention has led to measurable improvements in the outcomes for our students. Completion rates are up. Student satisfaction is up. More students are taking the courses they need to succeed in four-year colleges and in the job market. Reinvention is making a difference and making things better.

As we have achieved these successes, I have thought about what this says about the role of community colleges. We are the third largest community college system in the country. Our efforts are recognized, in large part through the efforts of Mayor Emanuel, internationally. It is gratifying to see us held up as a model. But until now, I have limited my vision of this model to a higher ed context.

The Chicago Tribune has now elevated our efforts as a model for Chicago. I hope, as the Tribune’s effort unfolds, it uses many of the processes Chancellor Hyman employed from the start – forming diverse teams (faculty, staff and students from all seven colleges) to come together and brainstorm on really big problems, research potential solutions, and propose recommendations. These efforts have led to HWC’s 70 percent increase in the number of graduates. They have led to improvement across the system. And they have led to better outcomes for our students.

Make no little plans.

Published by Don Laackman

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

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