More City Colleges Campuses To Specialize

As Chicago’s community college network further consolidates programs at specific campuses, critics worry that fewer students will enroll.

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City Colleges of Chicago is continuing efforts to consolidate specialty programs at individual campuses, announcing that most child-development classes will only be offered at Truman College on the North Side starting in 2016.

But with relatively big demand for child-development courses at three campuses on the South Side – Olive-Harvey, Kennedy-King and Daley colleges – faculty and students worry that shifting resources to a single site will drive people away from the field and dilute the mission of the taxpayer-supported community college network.

Roughly 700 students were enrolled in child-development courses over the past three years at those three schools.

The consolidation of child development – which trains future pre-school teachers and day-care providers – follows plans to relocate medical programs to Malcolm X College on the West Side and open a new center for transportation studies at Olive Harvey.

Documents obtained by the Better Government Association also show City Colleges leaders are considering shifting upper-level accounting courses – now offered at six of the seven community colleges in the system – to Harold Washington College in the Loop.

What’s more, advanced manufacturing courses would be consolidated mostly at Daley, while information technology would be centered at Wright College on the Northwest Side, the documents show.

Until now, students have been able to dabble in many subjects at each of the main City Colleges campuses. Some prerequisite and general courses still would be spread around the campuses, but higher-level and degree-specific courses are seeing increasing consolidation at select City Colleges sites.

The changes could mean a lot more travel for some students – or, critics fear, more students dropping courses or failing to enroll at all.

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Jennifer Alexander

"My students will not travel, they just won’t," said Jennifer Alexander, a child-development instructor and chairwoman of the City Colleges Faculty Council.

Many students are also parents and work full-time jobs, so convenience to campuses is crucial, Alexander said, adding that City Colleges administrators "don’t care" and apparently "are willing to lose students."

She added that the child-development changes are being made top-down without input from students and instructors.

Even City Colleges seems to recognize the possibility of fewer students in the field, with the documents obtained by the BGA mentioning the possibility of the system offering more online classes if necessary.

City Colleges spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes said via email, "This transition allows us to consolidate our investments and gain efficiencies to better support our students, and to concentrate our resources to provide students with access to excellent facilities and strong partners."

Having campuses specialize is part of a bigger strategy to align programs with jobs and to give students the best chance at completing degrees, officials added. It also is easier for programs that are consolidated to partner with companies, rather than have seven campuses all try to build corporate relationships.

Hayes didn’t respond to questions about whether – and how much – money might be saved through course consolidations.

The college network, ultimately controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is designed to provide two-year degrees and prepare students to transfer into four-year universities.

The BGA previously reported that the system, with an annual budget of about $700 million and more than 100,000 students, is planning to hike tuition significantly.

With limited resources, it is imperative for community colleges to specialize along the lines of what’s happening with child-development classes, said Davis Jenkins, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University in New York. Jenkins lives in Chicago and has been advising City Colleges on reshaping its specialty programs.

"We have been all things to all people with mediocre results," Jenkins said, noting prerequisite classes will still be spread out among campuses even when specialties are otherwise consolidated into a single campus.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Sarah Karp, who can be reached at skarp@bettergov.org or (312) 525-3483.

Image credits: City Colleges of Chicago (main image) and Sarah Karp