Study: Community colleges serve as major economic drivers

Sauk Valley Community College generates $15.9 million into the region

DIXON – A recently released study emphasizes the role community colleges play as economic engines and employment hubs in their communities.

Sauk Valley Community College generated nearly $16 million into the region the past fiscal year, and officials are working to expand the effect in the area.

“This study confirms that Sauk Valley Community College is a vital economic resource for the Sauk Valley region with an economic output of $15.9 million in the last fiscal year,” Sauk President Dave Hellmich said. “Investing in Sauk and Illinois’ other public community colleges helps ensure the state has a well-trained workforce, pumping billions of dollars back into local communities.”

For the last few years, the college has been developing and raising funds for the Sauk Impact Program, which would allow high school students to earn up to 3 years of tuition and fees at Sauk in return for volunteer service in the community.

Students would need to meet five criteria to qualify, consisting of registering for the program by Sept. 1 of their freshman year, graduate on time or early with their class, participate in 25 hours of community service a year totaling 100 hours, graduate from high school or an accredited home school program within the district, and apply for at least one other local/state/national scholarship as well as complete FAFSA.

Those who meet those requirements and who enroll in a career or transfer program would be given up to 3 years of tuition and fees.

One of the main goals of the program is to help to curb the area’s shrinking population problem and provide a more skilled workforce wanting to stay in the region. There’s also the concern that, on average, only 50% of students who graduate from the area’s high schools go on to any college or university.

The Sauk Impact Program currently is being piloted with students in Fulton and Prophetstown thanks to a Whiteside County donor, and it’s expected to launch districtwide in 2022.

The Illinois Community College Board contracted with Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies to do an in-depth study of the economic consequences of the Illinois Community College System, which includes 48 community colleges.

It evaluates the state’s community college system on its ability to meet the needs of business and industry, equity, student outcomes, students’ return on investment, and the system’s overall economic impact to local economies and job growth. The report also examines statewide trends including employment, population, race and ethnicity changes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study found that the total economic output of Illinois community colleges on the statewide economy in fiscal 2020 is estimated at $3.5 billion and 43,313 jobs.

“It is clear that community colleges remain a solid return on investment for local communities and the students that use them,” ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham said. “Our system plays a vital role in meeting the needs of Illinois’ workforce by providing quality training and education and gives students a greater opportunity to earn higher wages in countless industries throughout the state.”

The state’s workforce participation rate is at a low of 63%, exasperated by the coronavirus pandemic on top of existing issues, such as mass retirements from the baby boomer generation and not enough workers to fill those jobs.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.