Enrollment at Oakton Community College is dropping despite numbers that show an increased trend in high school graduates choosing community college. One way Oakton is trying to remedy that is to increase opportunities for high school students, particularly those at Evanston Township High School. 

At the District 202 School Board meeting on Dec. 17, Oakton Community College’s Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne Brennan advised the Board what Oakton is doing to make the transition from ETHS to Oakton a smooth one, and to introduce ETHS students to the school through a dual-enrollment program.

Enrollment Data 

According to 2018 Illinois Report Card, the percentage of high school graduates in the State who enrolled in a community college increased from 28.8% in 2013 to 31.3% in 2016.

 Overall enrollment in Illinois community colleges, however, is down by  3.8% from last year. At Oakton, enrollment is down 4.9% from last year.

Despite this decline, Oakton’s reputation “continues to be strong,” said Ms. Brennan. Oakton is the fifth largest recipient of transfer students in Illinois, and is No. 50 in the nation in a 2019 ranking of best value in community colleges in the U.S. Oakton was also ranked by valuecolleges.com as No. 1 in Illinois, and No. 17 in the U.S. for adult learners. 

Enrollment by ETHS graduates at Oakton is relatively low compared to many nearby high schools. There are currently 691 Evanston residents attending Oakton representing 8% of Oakton’s total enrollment. The ETHS Class of 2018 sent 79 graduates to Oakton or 10% of the class. Maine East sent 34% of its recent seniors to Oakton; Main West sent 31%; Niles North sent 27%, Niles West sent 28%; and New Trier sent 3%.

“You have been pretty consistent but we do have high schools where we have a larger yield from their senior class,” said Ms. Brennan. “There is a perception that this could change in Evanston, that we in fact could see more students choose Oakton through working with you in partnership.”

One area Oakton is seeing increased enrollment is online. Enrollment at its Des Planes and Skokie campuses has decreased steadily since fall 2014.  Online enrollment, however, increased 14% this past year while online/on-campus hybrid classes increased 20%.  

Oakton Partnership Gives  Admission Advantage

Smoother Transition:  “We are very involved right now in the development of curricular pathways, and we are very keyed in to student persistence and completion as a sign of student success,” said Ms. Brennan. “We are aligning those curricular pathways with our high school partners now, and I expect us to be doing that over the next few years to make sure that exactly what is being prepared for in high school takes you smoothly on into Oakton.” 

Included in this pathway alignment is the transitional math class. Oakton is working with ETHS and other schools now to redesign the transitional math course to better meet student’s need and improve student success in math. 

“If you want to see higher enrollment at Oakton, demonstrating that you can have success at Oakton will be the key,” said Board Member Gretchen Livingston. She asked how ETHS kids were fairing in remedial or “gateway” courses in math and English designed to prepare students for credit bearing college level coursework. “Are our students dealing with issues that I hear other students are grappling with at community college’s which is to say they come in maybe needing some remedial assistance having to repeat courses at Oakton before they can progress.”

Ms. Brennan said Oakton and ETHS were working to put that kind of data together, but that placement standards have been expanded to better gauge students’ abilities. Dale Leibforth, ETHS math department chairman, added that new remedial math courses at ETHS have also contributed to better math efficiency.

“Remediation in college at some point begins to affect your eligibility for financial aid, and a lot of those students have to step out because they can no longer finance college. So what we’re doing in the partnership is identifying these deficits early on. It has far-reaching benefits,” said Board Member Jude Laude.

Dual-Credit Program: A program that has been at ETHS has almost doubled in size among Oakton partners over the last four years. The Dual Credit Program allows students to take college courses at Oakton while attending ETHS.

“Oakton has committed to increasing the size of our dual-enrollment program. There’s a lot of research that makes us believe that getting dual enrollment exposure while you’re in high school – particularly for underrepresented populations and first-generation students – gives them a picture of college that they’ve not had before and [increases the chances they will] potentially attend college. 

“It isn’t completely self-serving, and there isn’t any indication that they will choose Oakton if they do this dual-credit program, but there is an indication that they will go to college.”

ETHS now offers 11 dual-credit courses, six of which are math: Beginning Photography, Basic AutoCAD, Introduction to Public Safety Careers – Fire Police and EMS II, General Education Mathematics, Introduction to Visual Communications, College Algebra, Calculus III, Linear Algebra, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra)

ETHS and Oakton are in conversations about future collaborations, specifically the development of Transitional Math, and expanded curriculum in business, early childhood education, fire science/EMT and health sciences, and possibly the development of a barber school. Dual enrollment courses could also someday be taught online or at ETHS by Oakton professors. Development of coursework that leads to industry recognized credentials could expand. 

 Oakton partners with four-year institutions that also help students. Through agreements with other college institutions, students at Oakton can create direct paths to four-year institutions. In a guaranteed admission program, universities advise students on coursework needed to transfer, provide orientations and invitations to campus events so students will seamlessly move into their college. Some, such as DePaul, give extra money to students who join the partnership. 

Increased Commitment

Ms. Brennan talked about ways Oakton has upped its commitment to expanding opportunities at ETHS. In November 2018, an Oakton representative began meeting with ETHS students every other Monday to help advise them about college and about Oakton. Outlook magazine was mailed to all School District 202 residents, highlighting Oakton’s Dual-Credit program. In February, Oakton will be hosting high school programming competition to help expose students to the community college. 

“We want to make sure that if students should be at Oakton that we’re doing what we can to bring them here and to talk to them about the opportunities that they have at Oakton and beyond,” said Ms. Brennan.