A history of community colleges in Illinois

and Projects Writer
Updated 5/22/2011 7:44 AM

Harper College's namesake, former University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper, is largely considered the founder of the community college movement.

His vision was that students who couldn't afford to go to or weren't ready for a four-year university right after high school should be given a chance to attend college for two years in their own communities, and become better prepared for the rigors of a four-year university.


That vision was the impetus behind the creation of the nation's community college system.

Through the years, continuing education, vocational training, and English as a second language have become integral parts of community college course offerings.

Public community colleges, the first in the nation being Joliet Community College, which was established in 1901, were exclusively funded by local property taxes and considered part of the K-12 public school system.

In 1943, legislation was adopted to hold referendums to set separate tax rates for both education and building funds to support junior college operations. State funding for junior colleges, however, was not established until 1955.

Currently, nearly 90 percent of Harper's budget comes from a combination of local property taxes and student tuition and fees, with the remainder from state and federal sources. By comparison, four-year public colleges in Illinois do not receive any support from local property taxes.

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Currently, there are 39 public community college districts composed of 48 colleges across Illinois, the third largest community college system in the country, according to the Illinois Community College Board.

Because of the dependence on property tax revenues, tuition rates are purposely kept low to allow as many local students access to the schools as possible. The average community college student pays $2,500 in tuition and fees a year, according to the state board.

Harper College, established in 1967, is in Community College District 512. It serves Arlington Heights, Barrington, Barrington Hills, Elk Grove Village, Inverness, Lake Barrington. Mount Prospect, North Barrington, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, South Barrington, Tower Lakes, Wheeling and portions of Hoffman Estates, Deer Park, Buffalo Grove, Carpentersville, Des Plaines, Roselle, Fox River Grove.