Community colleges have long had a reputation as places where academic careers go to die. Young people start out “taking some classes” at Kennedy-King or Wright, and the next time you see them, they’re behind the counter of an auto parts store.
For financial or academic reasons, they just can’t make the jump from a junior college to a four-year college. Your Ward Room blogger began his writing career at a community college newspaper, and saw that happen to too many of his classmates.
That’s why I love the NBC sitcom Community, which portrays community college students as academically ambitious types who just need a safe haven to get their acts together. Not every 18-year-old is ready for a four-year college. And not every 18-year-old can afford it.
That’s also why I like mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle’s New Pathways to an Affordable Higher Education Initiative, which would put high school graduates on a four year plan that includes two years at a community college and two years at a state university. Del Valle announced the proposal during a press conference Wednesday at Malcolm X College.
“Through the New Pathways initiative, we will put higher education in reach of more Chicagoans,” del Valle said. “I know that higher education is the pathway to a stronger city. Chicago is already a national research, financial and medical center. With increased public support for higher education, we can continue to lead in those fields, and ensure that those jobs remain Chicago jobs.”
Del Valle’s plan would make college more affordable in two ways: first, it would expand the dual credit and dual enrollment program between the Chicago Public schools and the city colleges, making it easier for high school students to earn college credits. Second, it would create a “2+2 Plan,” allowing a student to attend a community college for two years, then finish up at a state university. Some high-demand majors would be eligible for a “3+1 Plan” -- three years at a community college, followed by a year in university.
“The cost of the community college is about a third of the cost of a public university. Students usually attend their local community college and can often live at home to further reduce expenses,” says del Valle. “Through the 2+2 Plan, students will be able to continue on to a four-year public university, without needing to increase their debt and living costs.”
Two years’ tuition at a city college is $5,220. Two years’ tuition at the University of Illinois at Chicago is $23,520. So a student who spends two years at Richard J. Daley College before transferring to UIC would save $18,300.
Del Valle, who grew up in a blue-collar household on the Northwest Side, got his college education at Northeastern Illinois University, a commuter school occupying that gray area between a community college and a Big Ten college. He understands that for so many Chicagoans, the University of Illinois isn’t a safety school, but an impossible dream. He also understands that a college education itself shouldn’t be impossible.