Rauner says he'll have own plan for making community colleges affordable
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday called Harper College a model for what Illinois' community colleges need more of: partnerships with employers and training for technical jobs.
The state's new chief executive mixed his business principles with his education philosophies in a keynote at the unveiling of Harper's new Career and Technical Education Center.
The Palatine-based community college debuted the renovated facility before state lawmakers, suburban high school superintendents and manufacturers after a $38 million overhaul. The state kicked in a $20 million grant toward the two-year project, what Rauner deemed was "no better use of taxpayer money."
"We should think more strategically and holistically," the Winnetka Republican said. "Education includes vocational training, occupational training, technical training. It's all part of education. We should think strategically cradle to career."
On the same week President Barack Obama pushed his proposal for free community college in his State of the Union address, Rauner said he'll have his own plan to make "community colleges more affordable and provide incentives for our students who get great grades," but he didn't offer any details.
Obama's version would spend an estimated $60 billion over a decade to cover three-quarters of the program's cost, while participating states would fund the rest.
"I'm intrigued with it from what little I've learned," Rauner said of Obama's plan to make two years of tuition free for students who maintain a C+ grade-point average, among other requirements.
Rauner spoke from a welding lab in the 90,000-square-feet center, housing some of Harper's most in-demand programs. Students there are working toward skills certificates in high-paying fields like manufacturing, law enforcement and architectural technology. Harper officials say the building's classrooms and labs will help students stay relevant in a 21st-century workforce.
Rauner said small business owners are frustrated with a shortage of skilled, young workers. He said Harper's facility is responding to their needs.
"This is a partnership, and I'm a big believer that teams coming together, being partners drive results," he said.
Richard Hoffman, a former Harper board member and president and CEO of Atomatic Mechanical Services Inc, an Arlington Heights heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company, backed up Rauner's reaction to the center, built with green materials.
"As technology has improved, the machines and systems become more complex," Hoffman said. "This facility will help students stay within the latest technological innovations."
Rauner didn't tour the facility. Instead of a the traditional ribbon cutting, he did some welding with Harper President Ken Ender on a bike rack.
"I think they both need to take welding classes," Kurt Billsten said with a smile after helping Rauner with the demonstration.
Billsten is the coordinator of Harper's high-profile advanced manufacturing program, which will use the center, also known as Building H, until a 6,000-square-foot addition is built. Officials don't yet know the cost of the addition, still in the design phase, but hope it opens in late 2014 or early 2015.
The advanced manufacturing program, started in June 2012, connects students with 72 regional manufacturers that offer paid internships.