Written by Shayndel Valles
Photo by Shayndel Valles
Elgin Community College President Dr. David Sam noticed an anomaly while looking at student enrollment: for the first time, Spring semester student enrollment exceeded student enrollment in the Fall semester. While enrollment increased 10.8% in Fall 2022 compared to the previous year, Spring 2023 enrollment saw a 15.1% increase over a ten day count.
"Has that ever happened before?" Sam asked. "No, I can't remember. Spring is usually a little bit lower than Fall. Part of the reason is people graduate from high school in large numbers in May, June, and in the Fall and fewer graduate in December, and so the bump is not as high. But it is higher this time and we are very, very pleased with that."
Supported by nationally-ranked metrics such as the Top 25 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and Achieving the Dream’s Leader College of Distinction, Sam is dedicated to creating an outstanding student experience and ensuring student success through learning.
"Students may have a variety of reasons for coming to ECC," Sam said. "Whatever their dreams are, they believe that we can get them there. That's why they come and that's what we do very well at ECC. If they are going to work, we get them ready for the workforce. If they are transferring, they can transfer to the institution of their choice."
Expanding student enrollment and decreasing the need to borrow money through student loans are great interests of Sam. More students have been awarded degrees and certificates throughout his presidency than in the college’s collective history prior. In ECC’s seventy-four year history, 55.9%, or 38,106 out of 68,167 degrees and certificates, were awarded during the last 16 years. At the same time, the total amount of money borrowed by students decreased by $5.4 million and the amount of loans taken out decreased by 80%.
"I'm always happy to think about it," Sam said. "There was a time when 1,870 students were taking out loans; today, it’s about 344. Then, they were borrowing over $6.7 million a year; now, it’s about $1.3 million. Not only have we graduated more people in the last 16 years, but many of them have done that without any student loan debt, which is very significant."
To support new programs and student population growth, ECC’s campus has seen several expansions and renovations in recent years. Currently, a new $55 million manufacturing training center is set for construction near the entrance on McLean Boulevard. This facility is designed to fulfill increased demand for classes in areas such as welding, pure manufacturing and Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) as demonstrated by extensive waiting lists.
"One of the things that we learned from the pandemic is that we do too much of our manufacturing overseas," Sam said. "As we speak, there are many ships in our harbors, trying to bring things in and they have not been able to do that. And so in the years to come, there will be more manufacturing done in the United States."
Sam is determined to keep moving forward and always striving to improve. One of his greatest commitments is to the core essence of ECC, which is to improve people's lives through learning.
"It's been a wonderful 16 year journey," Sam said. "And even though I call them my 16 years, there are so many people who have been part of the journey. I consider this as the celebration of all of us, who have been part of the successes we have achieved at the institution."