District 300's program inspires Accelerate College legislation

 
 
Updated 2/17/2016 5:30 PM
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  • State Rep. David McSweeney likes a new college program started by Community Unit District 300 in partnership with Elgin Community College.

    State Rep. David McSweeney likes a new college program started by Community Unit District 300 in partnership with Elgin Community College.

  • District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid, above, worked with State Rep. David McSweeney on legislation for a statewide pilot program for community colleges and high schools.

      District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid, above, worked with State Rep. David McSweeney on legislation for a statewide pilot program for community colleges and high schools. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2014

An Algonquin area school district's initiative has prompted legislation calling on community colleges to make courses available to high school students for free.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, has proposed the measure pushing for the creation of a statewide pilot program modeled after Community Unit District 300's Accelerate College program, which allows qualifying high school students to take a full-year of college classes tuition free during senior year.

District 300 is partnering with Elgin Community College on the program, which allows eligible high school seniors to complete roughly half the required credits for a 60-hour, two-year associate degree in arts, science and applied science. While District 300 covers the cost of tuition, students are responsible for the cost of books and transportation.

Upon graduation from high school, students can choose to complete their associate's program at ECC or transfer those college credits to any Illinois college or university.

"I think it's a great program," said McSweeney, who worked closely with District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid to craft the legislation. "It efficiently uses state resources. It's a great model for what we should be doing (statewide) to make sure we are giving (students) the best opportunities for college. It makes sense that our students are incentivized to attend college, do college-level work and receive credit for that."

McSweeney, who represents the 52nd District, said he believes in the value community colleges provide. During the previous legislative session he sponsored legislation promoting partnerships between community colleges and manufacturing companies, which the governor signed into law.

"Community colleges are a very important part of our overall educational system," McSweeney said. "I've been interested in promoting more efficient uses of community college resources. Now, this accelerate program will encourage students to work hard and try to get college credit while they are still in high school."

The proposed legislation authorizes community college districts to enter into an Accelerate College educational partnership with any school district within their respective boundaries. It also allows community colleges to charge fees, but limits it to actual operating costs and related student activities. Coursework completed by high school students in a community college would be transferrable to all public universities statewide.

The Illinois Community College Board would be required to study the program's effectiveness and issue an annual report, per the proposal.

Freshmen at three Northwest suburban high school districts have enrolled in Harper Promise, starting a 3½-year journey that, if they complete, could earn them two years of tuition-free education at Harper College in Palatine.

To stay in the program, which college administrators launched in March 2015, students must keep their grades up, limit their school absences, perform community service and graduate on time.

Sixty-seven percent of freshmen from Palatine-Schaumburg District 211, Northwest Suburban District 214 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 applied for the program.

Promise students' commitment doesn't end in high school. They have to continue meeting grade, attendance and community service standards once enrolled at Harper.

College officials hope to have $10 million by 2019 to fund the program, with the initial $5 million coming from the school's general fund. About $2.88 million in donations has been received in the last year, bringing the program's total to $7.88 million.

Harper's program comes amid a national and suburban push to make community college more accessible and affordable.

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