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Adapting to meet changing needs, ICC is transitioning a majority of its courses to eight-week terms

The exterior of Illinois Central College's administration building on the East Peoria campus is shown.
File photo
Illinois Central College is in the process of transitioning a vast majority of its courses to eight-week schedules by the 2026 fall semester.

Illinois Central College president Sheila Quirk-Bailey believes taking an innovative approach to meeting the needs of students and the community must remain a priority.

That’s the primary motivation behind ICC’s decision to move most of its courses to eight-week terms over the next couple years.

Quirk-Bailey says studies show cutting the semester cycle time in half tends to improve success rates.

“We find students make better grades when they focus on two or three classes in a shorter period of time than five classes over a longer period of time,” Quirk-Bailey said.

The gradual process is already underway. Quirk-Bailey says about 25% of ICC courses are already on eight-week schedules, and they're aiming to have the vast majority transitioned to the shorter terms by the fall 2026 semester.

She says they came up with the idea by looking at student success data, combined with a realization that today’s college students seem to appreciate a faster path to employment.

“What we're finding is, both youth right out of high school and adults, they care about how quickly it can happen and they care about the trajectory towards the prize, which is the job. So that's why we're doing it now,” she said.

Quirk-Bailey says community colleges in Indiana and a couple in Michigan have moved primarily to eight-week courses, and there are a couple pilot programs in Texas. She says the early data shows that not every course can move to the eight-week schedule.

“In Indiana, for example, they have 200-level engineering courses that they still teach in 16 weeks because they found that gave them a higher success rate, and that it took a longer period of time (to teach),” she said.

“The same thing with anatomy and physiology; AP is the first course in any of the health careers programs where we see students start and they don't get through the course. So to make that more compact probably doesn't make more sense. We want to keep it at 16 weeks and build in more tutoring and build in more skills testing to make sure they get through that course.”

Quirk-Bailey says the changing demographics of community college students makes it necessary to adapt. She says the average age of an ICC student is 26, but the more recent high school graduates account for a majority of credit hours.

“Our part-time to full-time ratio is 70% part-time, 30% full-time. But I think it's more like 60-40, in terms of 40% of all of our credits are taken by full-time students because they take more and they move through a little quicker,” she said.

But Quirk-Bailey adds that about 27% of ICC students are first-time college students. But she says community colleges everywhere need to do a better job of getting younger people heading into the workforce earlier.

Illinois Central College president Sheila Quirk-Bailey poses for a photo in her office on the East Peoria campus.
Joe Deacon
Illinois Central College president Sheila Quirk-Bailey poses for a photo in her office on the East Peoria campus.

“Nationally, a full third of recent high school graduates are doing nothing, and by nothing I mean they're not going anywhere to continue their education, and they're not getting full time jobs. So they're living with their parents, and they're working part -time, and that's not where we need to be,” she said.

“So we really have to start thinking about: how do we talk about the value proposition, and how do we change what we offer, and how we offer it to entice these youth to get back into the process of earning a credential?”

Still, Quirk-Bailey says ICC’s enrollment continues to trend in a positive direction.

“Last fall, we were up 7.8%; we were up again in the spring, about 3%, and we opened summer semester up 5%. So we've recovered from COVID and we're starting to see that growth come back, which we're very excited about,” Quirk-Bailey said, adding that many high school graduates are viewing a community college option more favorably than 10 years ago.

“I think our workforce messaging is helping us; I think our transfer messaging is helping us,” she said. “Our students outperform juniors when they transfer to state universities. So they're doing better in their junior year on GPA than the ones who started at those universities. So I think we can demonstrate to people that this works.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.