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Baker to Help Remodel Higher Ed Programs

January 13th, 2016

baker-doug-4NIU President Doug Baker has taken the lead to align college degree programs with regional workforce needs by taking a seat on the new state Higher Education Commission on the Future of the Workforce.

The state’s goal is to increase the percentage of its workforce with quality college credentials to 60 percent by 2025. A 2013 U.S. Census Bureau survey indicates that 8.5 percent of adults in the Illinois workforce have an associate degree, 22 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 13 percent have a graduate/professional degree (total of 43 percent).

Two-thirds of all new and replacement jobs will require a college credential, according to James Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and chair of the commission.

The commission met for the first time yesterday to analyze the present situation. At the meeting, Applegate shared with the commission that 22 percent of adults in the Illinois workforce have some college credit, but haven’t earned a degree, and another 25 percent have only a high school diploma.

Those two groups make up “a pool of more than 3 million working-age adults who should be provided a path to a college degree,” Applegate wrote in an editorial in Crain’s Chicago Business a few months ago.

Regional universities are well-positioned to serve new enrollment markets, such as workers without a degree and students transferring from community colleges, Applegate said.

NIU has already made progress in working with community colleges to make it easier for students to get an associate degree. Reverse transfer agreements with these community colleges allow NIU students who’ve transferred from these colleges without an associate degree to earn the two-year degree using credit from NIU courses.

The commission includes legislators, college presidents and business representatives. Its purpose is to:

  • Analyze workforce needs and educational degree production in each economic development region of the state
  • Identify partnerships to develop certificate and degree programs to address regional workforce needs
  • Examine existing partnerships among higher education sectors to increase degree completion and explore opportunities for expanding collaboration throughout the educational pipeline to address workforce demands
  • Develop strategies for alternative models for degree/credential production, such as online learning and competency-based credits
  • Investigate incentives for working adults and those with substantial college credit but no degree to return to college
  • Explore strategies and practices in other states to incentivize certificate and degree completion

To learn more about the commission and its members, visit