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Higher-education officials agree: Teamwork will be key

Thursday, December 10, 2009  
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By Cathy Bayer
Posted Dec 10, 2009 @ 09:46 PM
Last update Dec 11, 2009 @ 10:54 AM

ROCKFORD — Improving the Rock River Valley’s sluggish economy will depend, in the long run, on increasing the number of college-educated people here. But local colleges and universities must work together to make that happen.

That was the consensus today at a Rockford Chamber of Commerce luncheon featuring the leaders of Rock Valley College, Rockford College, Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The four leaders are members of the Higher Education Alliance of the Rock River Region, a group that aims to build partnerships to improve the local educational attainment.

The challenges facing members of the alliance are daunting. Public colleges and universities serving the Rock River Valley have been forced to deal with budget cuts and late state aid payments tied to Illinois’ budget woes. State investment in public education has dropped while tuition prices increase year after year.

The result has been a "significant disinvestment in higher education,” said NIU President John Peters. "We find ourselves in this incredibly difficult situation."

The business community can help out, Peters said, by putting pressure on public officials to keep funneling public money into the public institutions.

Rockford College and Rock Valley are collaborating on a business program. Rock Valley College also recently launched Running Start, a pilot program that offers high school juniors their final two years of high school and their first two years of college at the same time. Forty-six Belvidere School District students have completed the first semester.

Collaboration is the key, said Rock Valley College President Jack Becherer.

"What can we do together that we couldn’t do by ourselves?” he said. "If not us, who will do it?”

The theme of the lunch was not lost on the audience, said chamber President and CEO Einar Forsman.

"Our wagon is hitched to the success of our education,” he said.


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