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City Colleges to revise tuition to undo damage caused to part-time students

Chancellor Juan Salgado said students at Wright College and the other City Colleges of Chicago want transparency and not to be "nickeled and dimed" with fees. | File photo

The City Colleges board will vote Thursday on a revamped tuition plan that attempts to undo the damage caused by a 2015 tuition hike that penalized part-time students who make up the backbone of the system.

Chancellor Juan Salgado said his proposal is a “hybrid model” that combines a “fair per-credit-hour rate” for part-time students with a “competitive flat rate.”

He argued that “only four percent of current City Colleges students” would pay higher tuition, while the “overwhelming majority” would either save money or pay the same amount.

Students would pay nothing extra for credits taken beyond 12 hours. That would cap a full-time student’s semester cost at $1,752 — $1 less than the current rate.

The cost of a single class would be cut by 25 percent. City Colleges would remain the state’s only community colleges system that does not charge ancillary fees.

Juan Salgado, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

The new plan is an acknowledgment that former Chancellor Cheryl Hyman’s July 2015 tuition increase penalized part-time students who make up the backbone of the system.

“What Cheryl did is to experiment a little to try to see if students would take greater course loads as part-time students. What we’ve largely discovered is it just doesn’t occur,” Salgado said Tuesday.

“We’re adjusting the part-time rate because your part-time students take course work depending on the rhythm of their lives. They take three or six or nine credits because they have home responsibilities and work responsibilities.”

Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union that represents nearly 600 full-time faculty members, applauded Salgado for revising a 2015 tuition hike that caused international enrollment, in particular, to plummet.

“They listened to our criticisms at board meetings. They’ve listened to students who said it’s not a fair tuition schedule when you are penalizing part-time students who make up close to 60 percent of the student population,” Johnston said Tuesday.

“On its face, it’s not a bad thing to incentivize full-time. But what you run the risk of is encouraging students who really shouldn’t be going full-time to do so. … I have anecdotal information from students at Truman College … who either had to withdraw or they failed the class because they took on too much. ”

Given all that, Johnston urged Salgado to go “back to the way it used to be.”

“Just have a straight cost-per-credit-hour and go back to where there were student activity fees and registration fees. That’s a more fair system than what they did previously and what they’re still trying to work with now,” Johnston said.

Salgado strongly disagreed. He argued that the elimination of fees “makes higher education more transparent” by letting students know up-front “exactly what they’re going to pay for.”

City Colleges is abandoning the “experiment” with tuition changes implemented in 2015 by then-Chancellor Cheryl Hyman. | Sun-Times file photo

“As I went out and listened to stakeholders, not once did I hear students or faculty crying out for a return to fees,” Salgado said.

“You’re gonna pay…$146-per-credit-hour. You’re not gonna then get nickeled-and-dimed with a registration fee or a technology fee to then figure out, `Oh, my God. My bill is much higher.’ Our students are making very difficult decisions in order to advance their educations. We owe it to them to have a transparent system that doesn’t come on the back end with a whole bunch of added costs.”

Last summer, Civic Federation President Laurence Msall urged City Colleges to consider “indexing tuition and fees” and tying them to an annual escalator.

That would “smooth charges and fees over several years rather than having uneven impacts on students,” the federation said.

Reached Tuesday during an overseas vacation, Msall said he needs to see the “analysis to back up” the new tuition plan before endorsing it.

“In the recent past, they have made decisions aimed at trying to increase the number of classes that City Colleges students take, the number of credits that they take. And the price benefit was not experienced by many students who ended up not participating at City Colleges. So, we saw a drop in enrollment,” Msall said.

When the Civic Federation proposed tuition and fee indexing last summer, Salgado said he was “certainly not closed to the idea.”

On Tuesday, he was asked again.

“You always examine and re-examine in the future. But right now, we’re focussed on making this particular change,” he said.