Updated July 9 at 4:30 p.m.
The cost of community college is going up in Chicago—especially for students who attend part-time.
City Colleges of Chicago is moving away from a pay-by-credit system to one that classifies students as full- or part-time or charges them $599 for a single course.
The flat-rate pricing would increase tuition on average by $225, but could be more for some students and less for others. The new prices go into effect this fall.
The Board of Trustees for the City Colleges of Chicago unanimously approved the changes on Thursday morning. Students and faculty were told about the new tuition amounts in an email late Tuesday, drawing criticism from the few who people signed up to speak.
“You make this decision in the summertime, when a lot of people are on vacation and you know, sneak in an e-mail 1.5 days before the Board is set to vote on this? I call that wrong,” said Jessi Choe, a humanities professor at Wilbur Wright College.
Choe also took issue with the fact that fall enrollment started months ago, calling the price increase a “bait-and-switch.”
“You don’t change the price of something after somebody has already agreed to pay it,” Choe said in her testimony.
Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, also a former City Colleges student, said the financial burden is not lost on her. But she blamed Springfield for the uncertainty.
“When fall registration opened in April, we still did not have clarity on state funding plans, so we could not finalize, nor communicate a tuition change,” Hyman said in her opening remarks. She did not take questions from reporters after the meeting.
The new rates will be: $1,753 for full-time students; $1,069 for part-time students; and $599 for a single course. The prices are still competitive compared to four-year universities and are still cheaper than if a Chicago resident were to attend a community college elsewhere. But compared to the cost of resident-tuition at other community colleges in the Chicago-area, the price is on par or now higher.
“Even with this new plan, we still remain the lowest cost community college option for Chicagoans,” Hyman said.
Hyman said the new “flat-price” tuition is designed to encourage students “The new flat-price tuition structure is designed to encourage full-time status and faster completion for students,” City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said in a statement.
The email sent to students and faculty said that, based on the current average costs, the changes would mean students taking 15 credits would save $91 per semester, but for those taking 12 credits the cost would go up $286.
Part-time students take the biggest hit. Based on average costs, the email estimated a student taking two classes would pay $384 more. The cost of a single course doubles from around $300 per class to $599. A spokeswoman for City Colleges said 45 percent of students are considered part-time, 15 percent take just one course at a time, and 40 percent are full-time.
Mary Beth Nick, 56-year-old student who has taken community college classes on and off over the past several years, said people shouldn’t be penalized for having “complicated lives.”
“There’s no acknowledgement that a lot of people simply can’t (take classes full-time) because of job obligations, family obligations,” Nick said.
Jennifer Alexander, a professor of child development at Daley College, said many of her students only take one or two classes at a time because they’re also working as full time child care providers. She noted many have to take courses to be licensed to work for the Department of Children and Family Services.
“Realistically, it would almost be impossible to ask them to take even 12 hours,” she said. “I can’t imagine 15, while working full-time.”
Alexander also said she worries what could happen to students who try to take 15 credits and then drop a class, adding that “if you drop a class, it affects your financial aid for next semester.”
Alexander is also the chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Faculty Council, but did not want to make any statements on the group’s behalf because they just received the information and haven’t had anytime to discuss it as a group.
Laurence Msall, president of the government watchdog Civic Federation, said his organization supports the proposed budget; he said it protects taxpayers by asking the people who use the service to pay, rather than request a property tax increase.
“However, in this case, the size of the tuition increase for certain students could precipitate a larger than projected decline in future enrollment,” Msall said. “You might have less students signing up to be full-time just because the communication has not been in advance of the registration.”
Msall said City Colleges is right to show restraint in asking for more property tax revenue, noting that the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Park District are all “in an intense financial crisis.”