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Latino 'Genius' Leader Named Head Of City Colleges Of Chicago

Updated

In the midst of a controversial overhaul, a Latino community leader has been tapped to take the helm of the City Colleges of Chicago.

Juan Salgado will replace Cheryl Hyman, a former corporate executive, as the head of  the state’s largest community college network.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised Hyman for improving the City Colleges’ graduation rate and consolidating programs with a focus on linking them to jobs under a plan called Reinvention. She also raised tuition and created a tuition structure that favored full-time students over those taking classes part time.

Those moves were sharply criticized by faculty and some community groups as a top-down initiative that they said limited student access.

Salgado, who still needs formal approval from the mayor-appointed City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees, said it is too early to say whether he will alter Hyman’s initiatives.

But he cited his ability to bring people together, a skill he honed as a community organizer. Since 2001, Salgado has been president and CEO of the Instituto del Progreso Latino, a Pilsen-based organization that aims to support Latino immigrants and their families.

“I am looking forward to bringing the power of understanding of people and local neighborhoods to this position,” he said.  

Salgado also said that many community college students juggle work and children, as well as school. The City Colleges are an vital option for those students.

People in Chicago depend on City Colleges in a profound way,” Salgado said. “It is their ticket to the middle class.”

A pressure point for Salgado may come in trying to meet the needs of these non-traditional studies while simultaneously boosting graduation rates. Emanuel often touts the rising City Colleges of Chicago graduation rate, which went from 7 percent in 2011 to 17 percent today.  

But that rate is based on first-time, full-time students who earn a diploma within three years. Of the almost 100,000 students who attend a class at one of the seven campuses, only about 5,000 are in the group counted in the graduation rate. Among that group of 5,000, 17 percent graduate in three years.

Critics argued that Hyman’s administration focused too tightly on that small group of traditional college students.

The appointment of Salgado helps answer a complaint that the mayor has failed to appoint enough Hispanics to city leadership positions.

But the faculty might not be happy.

The Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago had wanted the next chancellor to have an education background, which Salgado does not. Salgado attended Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills and then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from Illinois Wesleyan and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The faculty representative on the City Colleges board plans to issue a statement about Salgado’s appointment on Monday.

Salgado, 48, was chosen after a year-long search.

In 2015, Salgado won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” fellowship grant of $625,000. MacArthur describes Salgado as a “a community leader helping immigrants overcome barriers to success in the workplace and build the human capital of their communities.” 

Four years earlier, the White house recognized Salgado as one of 13 people nationally serving as “Champions of Change” for social innovation in their communities.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

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