City Colleges hits students with tuition hike
By John ByrneChicago Tribune
By John ByrneChicago Tribune
Many City Colleges of Chicago students are in line for significant tuition increases this fall under a budget trustees overseeing the seven-campus system approved.
The board, which is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, voted without dissent to raise tuition as part of a $696 million spending plan that includes no property tax increase. By raising costs for students instead, City Colleges can balance its budget without resorting to the politically painful broad tax hikes Emanuel is facing as he tries to deal with pension shortfalls and budget holes at City Hall and Chicago Public Schools.
The tuition increase was announced to students in an email two days before the vote and after many of them had started signing up for fall classes. City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman defended the hike, saying it will make costs for students more transparent by eliminating extra fees. Hyman said the aim is to get more students to take full-time course loads of 15 credits each semester by making it less expensive to do so on a per-credit basis.
City Colleges officials said 60 percent of students now in the system take fewer than 12 credits each semester. Those part-time students in many cases will face the steepest increases under the new tuition setup. City Colleges has long been an inexpensive way for Chicagoans to earn college credit a few classes at a time, often while also working jobs that make it tough to carry heavier course loads.
Currently, students taking fewer than 12 credits at a time pay at least $80 in fees per semester, on top of base tuition costs of $89 per credit hour. In some cases, costs are higher, usually for science or manufacturing classes that come with steeper fees. Other classes, often in the humanities, come with fees on the lower end.
A student taking a single, three-credit class now pays at least $347, according to City Colleges spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes. Under the new tuition setup, these "single-class students" will pay $599 for any one course, with the fees built into the tuition. That's a 73 percent increase.
Tuition also goes up for part-time students taking more than one class. Those taking two three-credit classes, who now pay at least $614, will see their per-semester cost go up to $1,069.
And "full-time" students taking 12 credit hours or more will pay $1,753 in tuition under the new system. That's up from current costs of at least $1,068 in tuition and $200 in fees for 12-credit semesters at City Colleges, and at least $1,535 total in tuition and fees for 15-credit semesters.
Hyman said a two-year associate degree from City Colleges now has more value, thanks to the push by Emanuel to remake the system by linking individual campuses with particular industries in a bid to make the degrees "more relevant to the modern workplace."
But Jessi Choe, a professor at Wilbur Wright College, blasted the board for voting on the tuition increase so soon after students and faculty learned about it, and for pursuing a financial model that she said punishes the very working-class college students City Colleges is supposed to help.
"Reducing fees? Let's cut to the chase here, we're raising the bottom-line cost for students who are starting to enroll, many of whom have already started to enroll for fall semester in a couple months," Choe said during testimony at the meeting. "So in my view, and I think for most people, if you have common sense, I'm not an economist, but if you raise the price of something, the rate of purchase is going to go down."
"When you raise the cost of tuition like that — kind of on the sly, I have to say, to make this decision in the summertime when a lot of people are on vacation and to sneak in an email 1.5 days before the board is set to vote on this — I call that wrong."
Hyman acknowledgedthat it's not possible to "incentivize on finances alone" but said officials hope more students will opt for the 15-credit course load that puts them on track to graduate with an associate degree in two years, pointing to class schedules she said make it easier for busy students to take several classes at once.
"One of the greatest barriers is juggling family, work and other things," Hyman said. "So when you put pathways in place where they have their structured, semester-by-semester program already mapped out for them, and put that on top of predictive scheduling where they now can predict when they take those classes, along with a financial incentive, I think we need to look at it in the whole."
The tuition increase comes less than a year after a re-election-seeking Emanuel announced the Chicago Star Scholarship, which he touted as a way to make City Colleges more affordable for CPS graduates with good grades by covering the cost of tuition, fees and books.