NIU Study: Sandburg Produces Workforce-Ready Graduates, Contributes Millions to Area Economy

GALESBURG — Carl Sandburg College produces qualified, workforce-ready graduates who earn more money than people without a college-level education in addition to contributing millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the regional economy, according to a new statewide report analyzing the value of the Illinois community college system.

The study performed by Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies and issued by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) found that Sandburg and the state’s 47 other community colleges boost economies and are key sources of revenue and employment for the areas they serve.

“I appreciate the work of ICCB and Northern Illinois University in highlighting the important contributions that community colleges like Carl Sandburg make to our economy,” Sandburg President Dr. Seamus Reilly said. “Community colleges advance the economic development of our community directly, advance our citizens in their education and careers and help to ensure that all citizens benefit equally from educational and economic opportunity.”

“It is clear that community colleges remain a solid return on investment for local communities and the students that use them,” ICCB executive director Dr. Brian Durham said. “Our system plays a vital role in meeting the needs of Illinois’ workforce by providing quality training and education and gives students a greater opportunity to earn higher wages in countless industries throughout the state.”

The report found that Sandburg graduates have a high rate of employment soon after finishing their studies. According to ICCB data, more than 80% of students who completed a long-term certificate or Associate in Applied Science program at Sandburg were employed in career jobs within a year of graduation. That figure jumped to 90.8% for students 10 years after graduation. The employment rates among post-traditional graduates also were strong. Among completers ages 25-39, 83.4% were employed in career jobs six months after graduating, and those over age 39 had an 85% employment rate.

Earning a degree from Sandburg pays significant financial dividends, according to the report. It found that the return on investment over a 40-year working life for students who earn a degree from Sandburg is estimated to total about $610,000 more compared to someone who does not go on to attend community college.

The report also found that the percentage of those 25 and over in Sandburg’s district whose educational attainment included some college or associate degree increased from 2010-19, rising from 31% to 33.7%. Educational attainment during that timeframe also increased for those 25 and older who identified as white (up 3 points to 34.2%), Black (up 1.1 points to 31.9%) and Latinx (up 1.2 points to 20.9%).

Sandburg has several programs — particularly those in medical professions — for occupations that often require a certificate or license and are expected to remain in high demand through the next decade, according to the study. Sandburg offers a course for certified nursing assistant (CNA), a certificate program for medical assisting and Associate in Applied Science programs for licensed practical nursing and registered nursing, which are expected to have hundreds of openings annually within the district. These programs provide a reliable backbone for area employers in search of qualified job candidates.

The report also cited the growing importance of educational programs that provide “soft skills” or “people skills,” which are highly valued for a wide range of jobs involving customer service, customer contact and relationship building. Sandburg has included this for several years as part of the curriculum for many of its career and technical education programs with its Employability Skills Academy. This 16-hour academy helps elevate the workforce by providing Sandburg students with instruction in key areas such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, business etiquette, social etiquette, personal presentation, resume assistance and interview preparation.

In addition to providing qualified, workforce-ready graduates, Sandburg’s employee presence also helps contribute millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the economy in and around its district. In fiscal year 2020, Sandburg directly employed more than 300 staff with a total payroll of $7.2 million. These direct impacts ripple through the economy, creating additional jobs, payrolls and other economic activity in the area and across Illinois. The report found that the total economic output of Sandburg on the region’s economy in fiscal year 2020 was estimated at $18 million and 342 jobs.

The study evaluated Illinois’ community college system on its ability to meet the needs of business and industry, equity, student outcomes, students’ return on investment and the system’s overall economic impact to local economies and job growth. The report also examined statewide trends, including employment, population, race and ethnicity changes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Community colleges remain a valuable resource for students of all walks of life,” ICCB Board Chair Dr. Lazaro Lopez said. “We are committed to creating an equitable path to economic mobility no matter who you are or where you live through the Illinois community college system.”