Thousands of students, few graduates

The news: Former Chicago Bull Wallace “Mickey” Johnson of North Lawndale recently ran for alderman of the 24th Ward on a platform that included improvements to the local education system.

Behind the news: During his five years as a basketball coach at Malcolm X College in the 2000s, Johnson said that he was the first coach there to have playersgraduate.

Often, he said, these players were trying to move on to four-year universities, focusing more on their game than their studies. But graduation data for the City Colleges of Chicago from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the problem isn’t confined to athletes. The center in 2008 surveyed students who entered Malcolm X three years earlier to determine how many had completed the two-year degree.

Only 8 percent had.

The center calculated graduation rates for the City Colleges by tracking 3,903 students who entered the district in 2006 for three years. The average district graduation rate was 7 percent. That rate is far lower than the national average of 30 percent and the state average of 21 percent for similar institutions, as calculated by the center for students entering colleges in 2005.

City Colleges’ records show that 87 percent of the 9,400 students the organization tracked left without obtaining any sort of degree from 2004 to 2010. And among them, only 17 percent actually transferred to four-year colleges. More than half of all students left within their first six months.

Katheryn Hayes, a City Colleges spokesperson, said the district is tackling the problem by closing the gap in the ratio of advisers to students. The district also recently assigned dedicated advisers who stay with 2,100 students through the semester, rather than allowing the students to find their own advisers in their college’s advising center.

In January, the City Colleges also formed task forces made up of staff, faculty and students from each of the seven colleges to tackle these and other problems. The first round of recommendations from these groups will be made in May.

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