While the Illinois community college system views the green economy as a key cluster for job creation, challenges such as increased enrollment, tightening budgets, and difficulty forecasting green occupational demand can hinder an effective workforce development response. The Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a growing consortium of the state's 48 community colleges, is a timely response to these challenges that enables members to share information on campus energy savings programs, renewable energy technologies, and career pathways, while aligning their green programs and curricula.
An initiative of the community college presidents, IGEN brings community colleges together to expand employment opportunities, improve human and environmental health, foster community engagement, and enhance market competitiveness to drive Illinois's emerging green economy. The effort began in 2008 when grant funding from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity helped to create pilot College Sustainability Centers at Heartland, Kankakee, and Lewis and Clark, and Wilbur Wright Community Colleges. These physical and virtual spaces provide sustainability and green jobs resources to administration, faculty, staff, students, and the community. A year later, the College of Lake County and Southwestern Illinois College created additional Centers. With six pilots successfully underway, the founding IGEN college presidents successfully secured more than $2.5 million to expand the pilots to all 48 campuses in the state system and establish a core administrative team to facilitate collaboration.
Through IGEN, colleges share resources and green curricula, including weatherization, solar technology, green welding, organic agriculture, hybrid vehicle maintenance, and more. IGEN also operates as a marketing entity promoting various courses and training programs to students and businesses across the state. The model serves to leverage and align their respective sustainability efforts and foster innovative programs:
In fall 2010, 12 colleges provided Greening Your Curriculum professional training to more than 150 faculty members so they can integrate relevant sustainability and green economy content into courses such as mathematics, English, engineering, nursing, teaching, and more.
IGEN's Pilot Pathway project will facilitate the creation of a best practice exchange. Sustainability champions from each college will be connected to interested peers, and monthly webinars aimed at faculty and staff will detail effective green projects.
Under an intergovernmental agreement, the College of Lake County, Heartland Community College, and Southwestern Illinois College serve as IGEN's administrative agent and fiscal agent on a rotating basis. The "Presidents Steering Committee" consisting of five voting members (college presidents) and three non-voting members who are responsible for approving IGEN's strategic direction and providing ongoing oversight and leadership. The committee meets by conference call monthly and in person quarterly.
The collaboration is attracting attention from some of Illinois' largest businesses. They are eager to work with a network of this size that has the ability to help them close the capacity gaps to bringing the next green innovations—products, services, designs, and strategies—to the marketplace. For that, the community college system is now being seen as a major player in propelling Illinois' green economy.
To learn more about IGEN's collaboration, visit http://www.igencc.org