Editorial: Playing it smart at summer school

It's July 17, the temperature is north of 80. Your friends are at the pool, kicking back and getting nothing done. Or working a minimum-wage job to keep busy before school starts up again in the fall.

You're sitting at a desk. In school. You're not wasting time. Instead, you're getting a jump on a career, or spending a little now to save a lot later on. So which of you is smarter?

Summer school isn't just for remedial work anymore. A report in Monday's Daily Herald by staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy addresses the reasons that Elgin Community College has seen a 9 percent boost in the number of students taking summer school classes in the past two years.

And it's not just community college students who are hitting the books instead of the beach.

Staff writer Marie Wilson last month wrote about how more students in Naperville Unit District 203 schools are taking summer classes to get a leg up on college.

At ECC, the reasons are manifold.

There are students who attend four-year universities who come home for the summer and at much less cost get into a class at the community college. They're either playing catch-up for their degree or hastening their graduation. Either way, they save money at a community college.

Others are part of that significant group who change directions in college and need to make up ground for a new set of core courses. Others still are working toward certifications or, as ECC's admissions director Trevell Eddins said, are seeking to "either retool for a new career or to gain enhancements on a current career."

ECC has 5,183 students this summer, compared to 4,750 two years ago. Part of this is borne out of growing partnerships between community colleges and four-year schools.

ECC is among five community colleges in the suburbs to partner with Northern Illinois University to offer a dual business degree program in which those who earn an associate degree at a community college can seamlessly finish up their bachelor's degree at Northern's Hoffman Estate's campus.

And NIU students can now reverse transfer credits to ECC to complete associate degrees closer to home if they so wish.

In District 203, 400 more students are taking summer courses than last year. Many of them are wrapping up required classes so they can take advanced placement courses in their senior years.

College is expensive. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the college financial advice website Edvisors, pegged college debt for the average person collecting a bachelor's degree in 2015 at $35,000. That's the highest it's ever been.

With job prospects fairly grim, the smartest students are those who look for ways to attack that college debt before it accumulates. And with the lines between our community colleges and four-year schools blurring almost every year, it only makes sense to consider attending them - at least for a while.

Our community colleges aren't just for night school hobbyists. They are some of the best resources we have in the suburbs. And if that's not enough, consider that parents already pay property taxes to support them.

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