State's overreach on COD hurts community colleges

By William F. Kelley
Guest columnist
Posted10/16/2015 1:00 AM

Forty years ago, I received an exceptional education at Harper College. Harper's small classes and dedicated, enthusiastic professors sparked my passion to learn and gave me the foundation I needed to continue my undergraduate education at Loyola University at a reasonable cost and no debt.

Community colleges deliver high quality, cost-effective education and job training crucial to the economic vitality of our communities.


For the past 12 years, I have served on the Harper College Board of Trustees. Last year, I led the Illinois Community College Trustees Association as president. Like many of my fellow trustees, I am deeply concerned about calls for more state control over community colleges in reaction to issues at the College of DuPage.

I think that would be a grave mistake. Illinois community colleges serve an incredibly diverse student body and are uniquely positioned to serve the specific workforce and educational needs of their respective communities. Suburban community colleges with strong tax bases are fundamentally different from rural colleges downstate.

It makes eminent sense that governance of each of these institutions should be vested in trustees elected by local taxpayers.

Community college trustees bring their financial acumen, life experiences, and analytical skills to the board table. They are connected to the communities and directly accountable to their electorate. Nobody is better situated to inquire, to vet, to examine, to challenge.

Being a trustee requires as much tact as tenacity. The ICCTA provides trustees professional development to hone these governing skills, act strategically, and benchmark student success.

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The ICCTA supports legislation that ensures transparency in our work. Taxpayers certainly have a right to know how their money is being spent and invested.

However, additional legislation that seeks to impose a host of operational mandates and restrict local decision making is dangerously shortsighted. Local trustees must be allowed to make decisions that are in the best interest of their colleges and the unique individual communities they serve.

Legislative overreach in reaction to an isolated incident may garner headlines in the short term, but often leads to unintended consequences, costly mandates and increased administrative bureaucracy over the long term.

Local control has been a critical element in making the Illinois community college system one of the best in the nation. Let's keep community college governance firmly in the hands of local property taxpayers and their locally elected boards who are directly accountable to their needs.

William F. Kelley is a trustee for William Rainey Harper Community College in Palatine and immediate past president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association.

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