Joliet Junior College and surrounding communities came together Aug. 12 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Illinois Community Colleges Act.
The institution was the nation’s first community college, paving the way for other post-secondary opportunities.
Gov. Bruce Rauner issued a proclamation naming July 15, 2015, through July 15, 2016, as “The Year Of the Community College.” The proclamation’s announcement legally designates the state’s commemoration of the milestone through events, conferences and other initiatives. The 50th anniversary celebration is aimed to recognize the successes of community colleges considering the promise of the act and what it means for the people.
“It’s no accident that these institutions are known as ‘community colleges,’” Sen. Pat McGuire said during the celebration at Joliet Junior College, adding that men and women earning degrees at community colleges strengthen the community and the nation.
According to the Illinois Community College Board, 9 out of 10 community college graduates will live, work, pay taxes and raises their families in Illinois upon successful completion of their academic program.
Over the years, there has been a shift in public perceptions on community colleges and their open enrollment when compared to other schools that are more selective. While these institutions may continue to face stigma in part because of admissions policies, their societal importance is growing.
McGuire said, “I would suggest that we take our focus off selective and think about effective,” emphasizing how schools on the east coast compare to community colleges in Illinois in terms of preparing students to be productive citizens and leaders in society.
Success can be measured in a number of ways, but community college students find it in part because of administrators, faculty, staff and trustees and their commitment to higher education.
Andrew Bollman, president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, said they are all engrained with similar qualities including focus, desire to achieve, a sense of responsibility to give back to their community.
Seeing such widespread commitment to higher education is wonderful, he said, noting that community colleges only use 16 percent of the higher education budget.
“Our community college graduates have contributed billions to the economy and tax roll,” said Bollman, who graduated from Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Illinois. “But, most importantly, our graduates have bettered this society with their increased knowledge and responsibility to the community.”
Executive Director of Illinois College Board Karen Hunter Anderson echoed Bollman’s comments on community colleges and their increasing importance in the world today.
“Community college is not the education of yesterday but is the education of tomorrow,” she said. “We don’t offer shop classes or teach keypunch anymore. We teach nanotechnology and proton therapy.”
Anderson added that these institutions respond to the needs of their communities and show they’re ready, flexible and willing to help students attain new and cutting edge jobs. Joliet Junior College’s 50th anniversary celebration featured a selection of speeches from guests such as Anderson and McGuire; Andrew Bollman, president of the Illinois Community Colleges Trustees Association; Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Matteson; and Eric Wilhelmi, Joliet Junior College’s student government president.
Joliet Junior College President Debra Daniels said JJC was honored to kickoff the 50th anniversary observance of the Illinois Public Community College Act, which was signed into law July 15, 1965.