A Publication of WTVP

In the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart learned how his small acts of involvement made significant differences in the lives and wellbeing of others in his community. What’s important in this movie is that Stewart’s character was really just another member of the community. He wasn’t the mayor or a legislator or even the wealthiest person in the community. He was just a regular guy doing what he thought was right to make his small corner of the world better. Sure, he gave up some of his dreams to make sure his family’s business continued. He even lost the limelight to his brother, the war hero. But in the end, the reach and frequency of this man’s impact was staggering.

Community colleges in Illinois are a lot like Stewart’s character. Community colleges often refer to themselves as the "Rodney Dangerfields" of higher education and find themselves in the shadow of their four-year sister institutions. Community colleges don’t produce earth-shattering research findings or have athletic teams that engage the national media for months. Community colleges usually don’t have Nobel Prize winners or hire former heads of state. However, if we play out the premise of It’s a Wonderful Life, the significance of community colleges in our area becomes more evident.

What if there were no community college in the greater Peoria area? 

And if those high school students went to four-year public schools, collectively, their families would spend an additional $5.7 million in tuition and fees each year. If they attended private schools, that amount would be $20 million each year. Data shows students who start out at community colleges and move on to four-year schools do as well or better than students who spend their full four years at those universities.

Each year, more than 1,500 people wouldn’t earn a college degree or certificate. In one year alone, that represents an $11 million loss in their salaries and wages. That’s a $550 million difference in the lifetime earning power-and income that couldn’t be spent in our community.

In a time where the state budget is tighter than ever, community colleges continue to provide value for the taxpayer and student investment. And while the community college system will never replace the university system, it’s important for citizens to reflect from time to time on just how integral the education community colleges provide is to the local health and wellbeing of our area. But in the end, like Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie, the reach and frequency of the community colleges impact is staggering indeed. IBI