Hanover Park’s Education and Work Center: Embarking on a Path of Hope

February 1, 2016

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Current ACE Fellow Kenya F. Ayers shares a pioneering cross-sector collaboration for providing adult education and job placement services to an underserved community in Illinois.

For research on the ROI of adult education, read the policy paper on Measuring the Economic Impact of a Better Educated and Trained U.S. Workforce released by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. 

“It now takes three incomes in a household to have what a middle-class family had in 1977.”—David Rolf

Can you imagine how incredibly difficult it is for undereducated adults to move toward the dream of a middle-class lifestyle for themselves and their families, with the all of the barriers to self-sufficiency they face?

Responding in part to these difficulties, President Barack Obama in 2014 signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which helps ensure that job seekers have access to strategically coordinated education, employment, training and support services. Essentially, WIOA requires that agencies determine ways to partner to better address the needs of the clientele they serve.

However, in a small town in Illinois, one mayor was already spearheading the kind of strategic planning the federal mandate would soon require.

Four years prior to the WIOA, Rodney Craig, the audacious mayor of the Village of Hanover Park, was disturbed that access to education was limited for the most vulnerable of the citizens he was elected to serve—those with poor job prospects because they lacked a high school diploma. Many of those same residents came from Latino families with low English literacy.

Hanover Park, approximately 45 minutes from downtown Chicago, boasts a population of just under 38,000 residents and sits squarely in the middle of three community college serving districts. The city faces numerous challenges including high unemployment, limited transportation and an increasingly diverse population with myriad needs.

Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the national growth of the Latino population rose from 9 percent in 1990 to 16.3 percent in 2010. Yet Hanover Park experienced exponential growth of its Latino population—from 13.5 percent to 38.8 percent—over the same time period. This growth exceeded both national and state growth patterns for the same population and timeframe. Many of these residents had expressed needs in the areas of basic adult education and career services.

According to the Illinois Community College Board’s Strategic Plan for Adult Education, “undereducated adults are now being faced with significant barriers to self-sufficiency.” To the extent that these needs were not addressed in Hanover Park, the community’s economic future was precariously balanced. The Village’s 2014 Strategic Plan said it has a “negative stigma that portrays it as a moderately low income, blue collar community where professionals do not live.”

Enter Mayor Craig, who boldly invited the three community college presidents to a meeting in 2010 to ask why none of their institutions were serving the residents of Hanover Park. As it turned out, the Village sits in a very small portion of the area bordering the serving districts of the three community colleges to which no one had paid much attention over the years.

Equipped with a new sense of understanding about the community’s resources, Kenneth L. Ender, president of William Rainey Harper College, and David Sam, president of Elgin Community College (ECC), rose to the occasion.

Mayor Craig convened an Economic Development Summit soon thereafter to bring together area business, educational and political leaders as well as representatives from local Workforce Boards. A series of reports indicated that Hanover Park’s then unemployment rate of 11.2 percent was persistently higher than surrounding communities and one of highest in both of the two counties in which the Village is situated (Cook and DuPage). It didn’t necessarily make business sense for each college to offer its own individual solution to the specified challenge as it was deemed too costly. But by working together, it seemed something might indeed be possible on behalf of the residents of Hanover Park.

Over the next four years, a working group of dedicated professionals from the two community colleges, the Village of Hanover Park and the Chicago Cook Workforce Investment Board, worked through multiple challenges and unforeseen circumstances to address the identified needs.

By the fall of 2010, the group began seeking approval through the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) to jointly offer classes in Hanover Park. Scouting for a location was a logical next step, which led to the eventual purchase of a 10,900 square foot shopping center to be redeveloped with Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) funds to house the classes.

Over the following year, the working group outlined a business plan that clarified the services that would be offered in a consolidated extension site through a cross-sector partnership—the first of its kind in Illinois—to reduce costs and deliver necessary services to the residents of Hanover Park. That’s when I joined Harper College: in January of 2012, I was named dean for a division with oversight for adult education.

In time, our working group created two very significant documents—an 11-page Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and a lease that included a comprehensive scope of work to be done by the landlord, the Village of Hanover Park. Within the IGA, each college agreed to contribute $750,000 to cover operational costs over the course of a three year pilot period. Illinois State Representative Fred Crespo was instrumental in securing a $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to purchase startup materials for the center.

After much deliberation, the brainchild of several years of work was ultimately named the Education and Work Center (EWC).

We held our Grand Opening celebration on Aug. 21, 2014. None of us, however, had anticipated how much the community was looking forward to the opening of EWC’s doors. Classes began in September 2014 and by that December, EWC had a waiting list of 450 potential students for the next term.

EWC offers courses in ESL/ELA (English as a Second Language/English Language Acquisition); Adult Basic Education; and Adult Basic Secondary Education (Illinois High School Equivalency) in both English and Spanish. Harper College delivers the morning classes and ECC offers the evening classes. The Illinois workNet Center onsite offers a variety of support services, including job search assistance/career exploration; assistance with on-line job applications; resumes/cover letters; information about WIOA programs and services; disability services; ex-offender referrals/services and veteran services; computer workshops and employer recruitment events.

By the end of the first year of operation, others began to take notice of EWC. In December 2014, Spanish language newspaper Reflejos presented EWC with its “Reflecting Excellence” award in the area of education, and in April 2014, the Center’s partners were awarded the 2015 Illinois Workforce Partnership Award for Innovative Solutions at the Illinois Governor’s Mansion.

We closely monitor the EWC’s effectiveness and are meticulous about collecting data for our multiple partners, in keeping with the notion that evaluation is built into the fabric of our daily activities in adult education and is vital to improving the center’s outcomes. Data is collected through multiple methods, including the Community College Board (ICCB) Dais-I database (data and information system – Illinois). This system enables adult education programs to ascertain how well students are performing academically and how well programs are meeting their performance targets.

The EWC director then produces an annual report outlining a facilities overview; staffing, marketing, community relations and networking; advisory board meetings/decisions and results; course offerings; enrollment trends; enrollment by type of instruction; demographics of enrolled students; IL workNet Center snapshot of services; challenges and best practices, awards and a financial summary.



Likely the best way to capture what EWC means for Hanover Park would be to tell Maria’s story.

Maria, a married mother of two children from Mexico has lived in Hanover Park since 1998. She had not completed her GED and decided to come to EWC after seeing information on the center in the Hanover Highlighter, the Village newsletter. Maria indicated that she wanted to return to school so she could help her children with school work. She was afraid to go anywhere—even to a restaurant to order food—due to her lack of education and English skills.

Maria attended EWC and earned her high school equivalency credential in one year by taking the daytime classes offered by Harper College, which worked with her schedule. After completing her courses, Maria proudly participated in Harper’s GED ceremony where we had the joy of celebrating her achievement.

Today, Maria is enrolled at Elgin Community College where she will obtain a certificate in First Aid, and she plans to continue her coursework to eventually become a phlebotomist or nurse. Maria’s decision to attend school and the credentials she will earn in the future will undoubtedly change the trajectory of her life and of the lives of the generations to follow.

When she graduated with the GED in June, Maria dropped off an orchid for the staff at the EWC. It proudly sits on display in the EWC office as a reminder to our EWC team that their work is making a difference—not just for Maria, but for so many other residents in Hanover Park who are starting down a path of hope through higher education and more viable employment through the Education and Work Center.

For further reading:

Illinois Colleges Open Joint Workforce Training Center
(American Association of Community Colleges)

ECC’s Hanover Park Education and Work Center Has More Users Than Capacity
The Courier-News (March 25, 2015)

Education and Work Center in Hanover Park Ready to Serve the Community
The Courier-News (Oct. 15, 2014)

Education and Work Center Opens With High Hopes
Reflejos (Aug. 31, 2014)

Work Begins on Job Skills Center in Hanover Park
Reflejos (May 18, 2014)

ECC, Harper College Partner on Hanover Park Facility
The Daily Herald (Feb. 28, 2014)

EWC on Flickr


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