These days, there’s plenty of skepticism about numbers at City Colleges of Chicago.

A July 5 news release trumpeted, “Mayor Emanuel and City Colleges of Chicago Announce Record High 22.9 Percent Graduation Rate.”

The system’s graduation rate “has steadily risen over the past seven years, growing from 11 percentage points in 2011 to 22.9 percentage points to date in 2018,” the release said.

The rate includes first-time, full-time students that complete a degree or certificate within three years.

“We are working to ensure all Chicagoans who come through our doors find success and the path to upward mobility,” City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado said in the statement. “The continued growth in our graduation rate is testament to the hard work of our faculty, staff, and students and efforts to eliminate any barriers in on our students’ road to completion.”

For years, Emanuel has promoted a “reinvention” of the seven-college system as a national model.

Skeptics abound.


“I would be very wary about this … based on past issues with transparency of graduation rates,” Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County Colleges Teachers Union, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Last November an investigation by the Better Government Association reported that for years, college officials manipulated statistics, “watered down its curriculum, violated its own rules on what constitutes a degree, changed the way it counts statistics and bestowed thousands of degrees—sometimes in multiples to the same person—to current and former students who in many cases neither requested nor wanted them.”

Overall enrollment dropped by 35 percent between 2011 and 2017, according to the BGA.

City Colleges officials denied they were inflating statistics and said that lowered standards were approved by state regulators.

Now Emanuel is touting the system’s “record-breaking” graduation rate.

22.9 percent?

Forget the skepticism. Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage in a city where unemployment, poverty and miseducation are a way of life in too many communities?

City Colleges is an educational lifeline for adults with nowhere else to go. Many of its 80,000 students come from working class and low-income families. They are people of color and immigrants seeking skills, job training and preparation for four-year colleges.

The need is clear. In 2016, nearly a third of African-Americans aged 20 to 24, and 37 percent of black men in that age group were out of work and out of school, according to research by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

I have followed the system for decades. It has long been an overlooked stepchild, a dumping ground for patronage jobs and political favors. Most news organizations give it scant coverage.

Its fiscal year 2018 operating budget was $443 million. We should demand much more for our money.

A couple of years ago, my nephew came to live with us. He was 19, with a high school diploma, no job and zero skills. He enrolled in a basic math class at Harold Washington College in the Loop.

He dutifully attended, but I never saw him with a book. The teacher told him books were not necessary, he said. He would learn “on paper.” (I never figured out what that meant).

He dropped out after one class, got a job as a busser, and now works at one of the city’s busiest restaurants, making a living wage.

Sometimes the numbers don’t add up.