A Publication of WTVP

Recent articles in the local media have reported criticism of two initiatives that are pending in the General Assembly. One bill would allow community colleges which serve eight counties or more to provide student housing. The second bill would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. It is understandable that our four-year sister colleges and universities might wonder about these bills and even feel threatened by them.

ICC certainly supports the student housing bill. We serve ten counties and cover a geographic size twice the area of Rhode Island. More importantly, many of our students commute on two-lane roads and have travel times of more than 45 minutes each way. With the current cost of gas, these students are losing part of the benefit community colleges are meant to provide—affordable education for anyone who is willing to avail him/herself to a college degree. Student housing on community college campuses is currently prohibited in only two states—Illinois and Florida.

While it is easy to see why city colleges that have districts which are well-covered by mass transit wouldn’t need housing, community colleges in rural areas of Illinois have a problem. Students have to drive daily to classes. The current bill in the General Assembly does not allow community colleges in small, densely populated areas with adequate mass transit support to run student housing. But in areas like central Illinois, where mass transit does not serve some of our remote locations like Roanoke, El Paso, Flanagan and even Metamora and Washington, student housing makes sense for both students and the college.

Another indirect benefit of community college student housing in areas covering a broad geographic area is the reduction of fuel emissions into the environment. Right now, the ICC Education Foundation runs student housing for ICC. The 300-plus students who live in the residences represent 300 fewer who would be driving cars every day to and from classes. That may not represent a huge contribution to the environment, but it is a start.

The second bill before the General Assembly needs a little more investigation. By statute, community colleges are not expressly prohibited from offering four-year degrees. No state-run, four-year university exists in ICC’s district. The University of Illinois-Springfield does offer a number of baccalaureate programs on the ICC campus, but students who want to transfer to a nearby four-year institution must attend a private school. About half of the 13,000 students who enroll at ICC each fall intend to transfer to a four-year college or university, such as Bradley, Western, Eastern, UIS, U of I Urbana-Champaign or a number of others. In addition, ICC has several cooperative agreements with colleges and universities that serve our students. So, in fact, ICC students have many options, including several online options, for continuing their education.

However, there may be a few areas where the myriad of four-year schools would not want to offer a bachelor’s degree. Most of these would be in areas we call “career” studies that result primarily in applied science degrees. Some four-year schools, like Southern Illinois University, do accept applied degrees toward bachelor work in limited technical areas, but in general, this is not the case. There could be a time when it would make sense for a community college to offer a bachelor’s degree in an area in which local and regional colleges and universities have no interest. It’s certainly worth exploring those realms. Right now, ICC doesn’t have plans to offer bachelor’s degrees, but it would be advantageous to our students if we could keep that option open.

In both cases, the legislation really is more about meeting emerging student needs and less about creating or eliminating competitive advantages for one school or another. As we look at integrating quality standards like those expressed by the Baldrige criteria, our first and foremost concern should be our stakeholders. And whether we’re a community college, a four-year state institution or a private university, our first concern should be the students. IBI