Community college a valuable resource

History has told us that as the economy sours, more and more people turn to their neighborhood community college to regroup, retrain and look for new careers.

And that has held true in this latest abysmal recession.

Until now.

Enrollment at suburban community colleges has grown considerably since the bottom fell out of the housing market and companies began off-loading employees. But at the four largest community colleges in the area — College of DuPage, Harper College, College of Lake County and Elgin Community College — enrollment for 2011 actually was lower than in 2010.

After big spikes in 2009 that saw ECC’s enrollment grow 19 percent and McHenry County College’s numbers grow 20 percent, for instance, both saw a drop this year of better than 3 percent.


In a story in Monday’s Daily Herald written by Kimberly Pohl, school leaders said they aren’t certain, but they advanced a couple of theories: One, that people would rather take jobs for which they are overqualified than take time away from work to learn new marketable skills. Another, that the increasing difficulty of affording courses at community colleges, where continued drops in state aid have resulted in tuition increases in most schools in the area. Both theories boil down to the availability of money.

“Community colleges continue to be the best value in town, but if it’s the difference between paying an electricity bill and taking classes, people have to prioritize,” said Jim Bente, COD’s vice president of planning and institutional effectiveness.

As the economic recovery continues to sputter, it’s understandable that those who are unemployed or underemployed might not see the advantage of going to school, whether part-time or full-time. But it would be a shame if it weren’t part of the conversation.

Here’s why: You already pay for the privilege of having these top-notch colleges in your back yard. It is the easiest and most economical way to retrain yourself to be hirable in today’s market. And there are more agreements with four-year universities today than ever before, which makes for a more sophisticated curriculum.

If you or your teenager is talking about leaving the area to attend a four-year school, strongly consider spending the first two years at the community college near you. Credits are more transferable to universities than ever before. And when you factor in outlandish tuition and room and board at four-year schools, you’ll find there is no fault in attending community college to get your feet wet, especially in this age of financial uncertainty.

That’s old school pragmatism.