Illinois Community Colleges Pursue Offering Four-Year Degrees

Community college presidents in Illinois have formed a committee to look into allowing four-year programs in the state’s community colleges.

Similar policies are already in place in 20 other states.  For example, a “2 plus 2 partnership” is in place in Syracuse, New York.  Students can begin their degree at Onondaga Community College and finish up at Cazenovia College without worrying about which credits will transfer.

The plan was attempted in 2007, but never made it past the Illinois House of Representatives.  Recently, a community college in Chicago decided to revisit the idea, forming a sub-committee to investigate the possibility.

“We spend time, money and effort recruiting and retaining students and then we ignore how they can best contribute to their local community’s economy and quality of life,” College of DuPage President Robert L. Breuder wrote in a March 26 letter published by the Chicago Tribune.

“We shouldn’t lose them because we couldn’t offer the baccalaureate degree in a field that no public university cares to offer despite a documented need within the districts the community colleges serve.”

For example, a nursing student who holds an associate’s degree cannot also attain a nursing bachelor’s degree at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale.  They must attend classes at another campus, farther away.

There is a definite need for these programs among students, and the option of attaining a four-year degree at a community college would make education more affordable for some with the average full-year tuition at about $3,500 instead of upwards of $15,000 at a public university.

The state is unable to keep up with the amount of students requesting financial assistance for public universities, causing more and more students to lean toward community colleges.

In 2012, 370,000 students were eligible for grants.  Of those, 145,000 did not receive the help they needed.

However, finding the funding for such an undertaking is of concern.

According to John A. Logan College President Mike Dreith, community colleges currently attain funding through tuition, local property taxes, and the state.  It is unclear how that would change if four-year degrees became an option, reports Stephanie Tyrpak for WSIL.

Another concern is that with more students attaining four-year degrees, the state may fall behind in the number of associate’s degrees it hands out per year, in comparison to the rest of the country.

Dreith is also concerned about the community college system’s relationship with SIU.

“We are extremely sensitive to our relationship with SIU,” he said, adding both SIU and Northern Illinois University were staunchly opposed to the idea eight years ago.

SIU President Randy Dunn the university has not taken a position yet, but expressed concern that too many institutions would be offering similar degrees.

“You’re going to now have a great many more providers doing very similar programs, potentially, that quite frankly I’m not sure are needed across the state,” he said.

Research from Edvisors found that only one in five students who enroll in a two-year program will end up attaining a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution within 6 years, while two-thirds of students who start at a four-year college will finish their degree in that time span.  There is thought that if these two-year schools offered bachelor programs, more students would finish their degrees.

The sub-committee is hoping to introduce legislature by the spring of 2015.