IL Community College 4-Years?
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The Illinois Council of Community College Presidents is proposing to have Illinois law changed to allow community colleges to award 4-year degrees in Nursing and Applied Technology. BSRN has moved to Senate Bill 888.

They studied the proposal for a year. Their primary conclusions: 1) employers want better educated and trained employees, 2) those with degrees earn more than just a high school diploma and 3) other states are allowing community college baccalaureate degrees, so Illinois should also allow them. The Illinois Community College Trustee Association then studied and supported the proposal.

The Council avoided any cost benefit analysis as applied to their institutions prime mission students, however they concluded that 4-year degrees may be provided without any new funding by using existing property tax! As property tax is capped it means that they will use prime mission funds!. Let's look at the cost benefits that the President's Council apparently ignored. Illinois Community Colleges are on record as stating that the cuts in state aid and property tax caps are forcing them to raise tuition much faster than inflation. They also know that every increase in the price of community college education or job training results in reduced enrollment. Illinois Community College academic enrollments are down over 50,000 to just over 300,000 since 2012! Those who need some higher education/job training are the missing enrollees! Diverting existing property taxes to 4-year students will also result in an increase in tuition/fees for the prime mission students at Illinois Community Colleges. Four year degrees at Illinois Community Colleges as proposed will result in a "tax" on their prime mission students. As the price for these prime mission students increases, fewer will attend and the Illinois underclass will grow!

Illinois would be better served by helping more of its citizens earn 4-year degrees. Where should Illinois' limited public funds be directed to increase 4-year degrees? The price of public higher education is equal its cost less its public tax support. The higher the tax support the lower the price/tuition, the higher the enrollment. Community college low price/tuition is often quoted in error as being low cost! The Presidents Council study was initiated by Dr. Robert Bruder at the College of Du Page, so we looked at their 2014 (the latest public comparative data) cost and those of Northern Illinois University, their closest state university, on a dollars per semester hour ($/sh) basis. We also have listed all inclusive full state average dollars per semester hour costs.

College of Du Page                             $484.03/sh
Northern Illinois University                 $303.31/sh 1st 2 years $338.35/sh year 3 & 4
Average Illinois Community Colleges $461.41/sh
Average Illinois State Universities      $290.31/sh 1st 2 years $387.99/sh year 3 & 4

Illinois Community Colleges have lower tuition than state universities because they receive more tax support. Reallocating limited public funds for community college 4-year degrees is the higher cost alternative and likely guarantees that fewer Illinois citizens will earn 4-year degrees. If locally offered 4-year degrees are desired, state university extensions are more cost effective. If Illinois citizens want to divert any of their limited tax base to increasing 4-year graduates it should consider increased funding to state universities and/or to local state university extensions, as this would cost less and accomplish more.

One of the best programs offered by community colleges is the Registered Nurse (RN) program. Students complete the program in two years, accumulate relativity small educational debt and enter a well-paid profession. And please note that in education, student investment includes both time and dollars. Two year RN programs therefor provide the most needy with an achievable path. However to get ready for the proposed community college 4-year Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) programs some Illinois Community Colleges are reducing their 2-year RN programs! One can predict that starting BSN programs at Illinois community colleges will also end their RN programs. The Presidents Council cited a major need for more Registered Nurses and the growing requirement that nurses have 4-year degrees. No one can argue with the premise that more education is better. But as over 60% of the United States RNs come from community colleges and many more RNs come from 2-year hospital programs, changing to a 4-year degree BSN nursing entry level will result in fewer not more nurses. Illinois Community College RNs do as well as BSNs when taking their state board exams. The best solution to a nursing shortage is to increase community college RNs. The large community college capital investment in high technology nursing equipment is mostly unused on weekends and evenings. The proposed 4-year degrees are talked up as helping veterans. In Illinois, a working veteran raising a family can not earn a part time evening RN at many, if any community colleges. Working RNs can easily continue education on their own to meet the BSN within 10 years as being proposed. There are over 35 on-line RN to BSN programs and a couple of dozen Illinois colleges offering these programs. Illinois Community Colleges should be lauding their RN programs, not taking the self-fulfilling position that they are inadequate!

If one follows the news on community college 4-year applied technology degrees, you may observe a growing position that the degree is of lesser value than one from a traditional source. If you read the Presidents Council report you may come to the conclusion that an applied technology degree dedicated to a local industry's needs will be great for both the student and the industry. This is true, but only as long as the industry exists and continues doing what it does now. The problem is that very few high technology industries will continue doing what they do now, hence local industry-specific baccalaureate degrees are being perceived as having a lesser value. Should Illinois taxpayers spend more for a less valuable 4-year degree? Industry is touting a skill shortage, but as the compensation being paid to degreed factory employees is not increasing, its not a large shortage. Community colleges should follow their prime mission of providing job training and use their agility to meet local industry needs. Those who have an 2-year degree do not need a low price 4-year one, paid for be those who do not.

The president's council report lauds Florida's state college 4-year degree program. What they did not report, is that all tax funding, for Florida's higher education is from the state. Taxes, including property tax, are collected by the state and allocated as the state deems to both state colleges and universities. Starting with one college and two programs, Florida's. State college 4-year degree program has grown to 180 majors at 26 colleges. As easily predicted, offering one taxpayer a baccalaureate degree for $3,700 a year (Florida's state college price) and telling the other they will have to pay $6,100 (Florida's state university price) a year does not work. Florida uses tax funding to pay the difference between cost and price for both universities and colleges, however it must pay an additional $2,400 above the normal support per year for each state college 4-year degree student. The legislature in Florida is in a quandary as how to rein in this large extra expenditure. Florida's experience illustrates two facts not covered in the Presidents report. You cannot offer a low price education to some taxpayers without others demanding the same and if you start a new low price, higher cost higher education system, it will grow and get very expensive very fast. As Illinois does not have the funds, the prime mission students will have to pay more, enrollment will drop and social well fare costs will increase. Illinois budget deficit will grow.

Many perceive that colleges that award 4-year degrees are more important than 2-year colleges. On average their administrations receive more compensation and and they have expanded employment paths.These are strong drivers that result in the community college community supporting their ability to award 4-year degrees. However this is not a reason to change the underlying philosophy of Illinois Community Colleges.

We find it hard to see the benefit of Illinois expanding 4-year degrees via the higher cost community colleges. With high debt and limited available revenue, Illinois should not start a new, high cost, low price, education system that diverts existing taxes from its prime mission students and/or requires new taxes, without full discloser and taxpayer approval.