Elgin Community College is in the running for a national award recognizing one of its student support services programs.
The school is one of 10 finalists for a national Bellwether Award, which have been awarded for the last 23 years to honor initiatives that could be replicated at other community colleges.
ECC is facing competition from other college nominees in Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kentucky and Utah.
The awards are sponsored by the University of Florida‘s Institute of Higher Education and winners will be announced at the Community Colleges Futures Assembly in Orlando at the end of January. According to the University of Florida, the awards recognize “cutting-edge, trend-setting programs” that other colleges may choose to emulate. More than 200 applications were submitted for Bellwether consideration, but only 30 earned nominations.
What gave ECC its third nomination in five years is its Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System, or ICAPS. The program typically assists about a dozen students pursuing career and technical education course in such fields as welding, dental office assistance and HVAC, said Peggy Heinrich, interim vice president of teaching, learning and student development.
“It’s a really mixed group of students,” Heinrich said. “Some are closer just out of high school, while other students have been out for a while.”
Some may have been out of the school setting for years, and are not only scared about going back into a classroom but need additional assistance to complete their area of study, she said. ICAPS groups those students together so they can share what they’re doing right and wrong in their studies. College navigators also assist them through areas such as guidance and financial aid.
In addition, the students take unique classes, such as “Thriving in the Workplace,” which assists in developing soft skills, such as communication and interviewing. Heinrich said employers tend to look for soft skills as well as job-specific skills.
The Bellwether nomination is a significant achievement for ECC and other nominated schools, Heinrich said. It helps reverse the stigma that community colleges do not compare with universities and larger colleges in terms of academics or assistance.
“We work hard at ECC to provide programs designed to improve college completion rates, strategically aligning grants and other resources to support initiatives that have proven to be successful,” Heinrich said. “This recognition validates that practice and affirms our commitment to ensuring all students, regardless of level, are able to succeed.”
ECC has received Bellwether nominations in the past. In 2013, the college won for its Alliance for College Readiness initiative. And in 2014, it was nominated for its financial education program.