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posted: 1/25/2010 12:01 AM

Proponents say College of DuPage public supports tax dollars for ESL

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Supporters of the College of DuPage's English as a Second Language program believe the public approves spending local tax dollars on the classes.

They delivered petitions with 2,600 signatures collected in a two-week span to the COD board last week, urging it to restore the 47 ESL classes that have been dropped for budgetary reasons.

College officials say the ESL program has needed a $4 million subsidy in local property taxes during the past five years. The generally free classes are supposed to be covered by state and federal funds. In an effort to curb the college's costs, COD officials ratcheted up class-size standards to economize service and cut some higher-level classes that the state was no longer funding.

Now, it takes 21 students to register for an ESL class. In the past, the minimum class size was 12.

"We have determined that a break-even point for us would have to be 21 students in each class," said Joe Collins, COD's Vice President of Academic Affairs. "This appears to have been our downfall in the past. We haven't paid close attention to the numbers."

College officials said the loss of classes hasn't affected delivery of services, pointing to ESL enrollment this semester being up by 1,000 students. But supporters from DuPage United - a band of local church leaders and social advocacy group heads - believe the increased enrollment only shows a greater need for the classes that were eliminated.

"A lot of community colleges see ESL classes as a steppingstone into the college for these students as opposed to it being a burden," said Amy Lawless, a DuPage United organizer. "This is an important service, and we've got support that shows using local dollars would be a good use of college funds."

DuPage United officials said COD President Robert Breuder has offered to meet with them about their concerns, but no date has been set for that get together.