City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman (L) Mayor Rahm Emanuel (R)
The board of trustees governing City Colleges of Chicago is expected to vote Thursday on a budget plan that would dramatically raise tuition on the largely low-income student body.
Students who take one class – about 15 percent of all students in the 2014-2015 school year – would see a $250 tuition hike, from $349 to $599 per semester, according to records and interviews.
Students taking between six and 11 credit hours – usually two to four classes – would pay $225 more per semester.
Students taking 12 or more credit hours would pay $200 more. This is considered full time, and roughly 40 percent of City Colleges students fit into this category, but City Colleges officials want to see that number grow, so the tuition structure is being designed with that in mind.
At the same time, City Colleges plans to eliminate a range of student fees – though with the tuition hikes most students will still be paying more in the 2015-2016 school year than the school year that just ended.
The tuition increases are expected to generate at least $12 million in revenue.
Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of the taxpayer-supported community college network of seven main campuses, refused to speak to the Better Government Association for this story.
But her press aides released a statement quoting her as saying, “Under the new price structure, City Colleges’ tuition per semester will remain far cheaper for a Chicago resident than attending any other Chicago-area community college.”
The nonprofit Civic Federation, a fiscal watchdog, released an analysis on Wednesday indicating support for the proposed budget, but expressing concern that the tuition hikes might drive down enrollment rather than – as City Colleges wants – increase the number of full-time students.
The Civic Federation also indicated that City Colleges – which ultimately is overseen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – should have communicated the proposed changes to students sooner.
That sentiment is echoed by David Richmond, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union, which represents many City Colleges instructors.
“City Colleges is making a lot of changes fast and we are worried about how it is communicated,” Richmond said. “All this stuff is confusing.”
City Colleges officials say the tuition increases are necessary to offset decreases in state funding and a continued drop in enrollment. About 2 percent fewer students enrolled in City Colleges credit programs in 2014-2015 compared to the prior school year.
Roughly 115,000 students attend City Colleges through the year. About 80 percent of the student population receives federal Pell grants, which are geared toward lower-income students, to help with costs, a City Colleges spokeswoman said.
One public budget hearing was held, on June 29.
Kim Knutson, an associate English professor at City Colleges’ Wright College on the Northwest Side, said about 20 non-employees attended the hearing. No students spoke in opposition to the tuition hike, but she said few seem to realize prices are going up.
Knutson, who emphasized she’s not speaking on behalf of City Colleges, said she and some colleagues worry about the emphasis on degree completion and setting up a pricing structure around it. “Most of our students just can’t go full-time because they are working or because they have children and have child-care issues,” she said.
If students are pushed into taking more classes than they can handle, they might fail or teachers will be pushed to lower standards, Knutson said.
In addition to the changes in the pricing structure, City Colleges is consolidating the nursing program into one campus and offering students pre-packaged courses of study to prevent students from getting off track.
The proposed budget does not call for a property tax increase. The total City Colleges budget is about $700 million.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Sarah Karp, who can be reached at (312) 525-3483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.