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A Publication of WTVP

Community colleges have been around the State of Illinois for more than 100 years. In the early 1960s, community college districts were set up in Illinois to provide a tax base to support the education of students in specific, geographically defined areas. Some of these areas are small. For example, Morton Community College in Cicero serves an area of 17 square miles. Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield serves a district of 4,115 square miles. Our own district is 2,322 square miles—roughly twice the size of the State of Rhode Island—and includes 10 counties. 

Community colleges exist to make a college education accessible to any student who wants to learn. And while the geographic districts provide the tax base that funds about one-third of the community college’s operating costs, the size of many districts creates barriers to accessing a college education. For example, the commute time for a student in Milo, a small town in Bureau County in our district, is more than a one-hour drive. Even students who live closer to ICC encounter long commutes during road construction and bad weather. Student residences provide an alternative for students who want or need to eliminate these commutes. 

But there are even more compelling reasons to support student housing at community colleges. In addition to educating traditional college students who will eventually transfer to four-year schools, community colleges also serve as the starting place for the bulk of poor students, minority students, career students, adult students, and students who need remediation to manage college work. Many of these students need extra support to succeed in college. 

Academic research has shown that students who live on campus enjoy greater academic and social integration with faculty, staff, and peers. As a result, students have a greater satisfaction and connection to the institution and have higher levels of academic achievement. In addition, because of the learning community residential facilities provide, students who live on campus are more likely to stay in college and complete their education. Simply stated, housing for community college students enhances the quality of their learning experience and increases their likelihood of success. 

Community colleges like ICC often offer regional career programs. At ICC, programs like the Caterpillar Dealer Service Technician Training program, GM-ASEP, nursing, and agricultural/horticulture programs already attract students from our region. Such regionalization of programs avoids costly duplication of services throughout the state and, in the end, saves taxpayers money. But a big barrier to greater regionalization of programs is the lack of adequate housing for students. 

Community college students see this lack of housing as discriminatory. One of our students questioned why the state would deny those who seek a community college education the living experience students at four-year institutions take for granted. With the benefits of on-site residences clearly documented, the practice of excluding community college students from the experience of living in a college residence seems particularly discriminatory against students who are economically or academically challenged and those who seek career degrees or certificates, rather than traditional four-year degrees. 

Illinois is behind other states. Texas, Missouri, Wyoming, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, California, and Colorado are just a few of the states that permit student residences at community colleges. Rep. David Letch sponsored HB2279 to end the practice of banning student housing at community colleges. The bill, co-sponsored in the Senate by Dan Rutherford, is currently stuck in committee. 

Contrary to rumors, the bill wouldn’t force the state to appropriate funds for housing or even create a line item in the budget. What it would do is allow community colleges to find ways to bring housing to their campuses. And when you look at the benefits of housing that accrue to community college students, it’s hard to understand why Illinois hasn’t moved forward. IBI

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