House OKs plan calling on community colleges to make classes free for high school students

Updated 4/19/2016 1:10 PM
  • David McSweeney

    David McSweeney

House lawmakers unanimously passed a proposal Tuesday calling on community colleges to make courses available to high school students for free.

Sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, the measure calls for the creation of a statewide pilot program modeled after Algonquin-based 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.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, Illinois high school students can earn dual credit for taking community college classes. Participation in the Accelerate College pilot program would be voluntary for community colleges.

"Programs such as this can be used as another tool to address college readiness and can help open up the possibility of college to those who otherwise wouldn't consider it," McSweeney said. "At a time when college costs are rising significantly, this could help students -- who may have thought college was out of reach -- save a considerable amount of money."

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.

District 300 is partnering with Elgin Community College on its 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. District 300 covers the cost of tuition, but 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 state college or university.

Similarly, freshmen at three Northwest suburban high school districts have enrolled in Harper Promise, a 3½-year program launched in March 2015 that could earn them two years of tuition-free education at Harper College in Palatine. To stay in the program, students must keep their grades up, limit their school absences, perform community service and graduate on time.

McSweeney worked closely with District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid to craft the proposed legislation, which would sunset in three years so the Illinois Community College Board could assess the pilot program's success and issue a report.

It now moves to the Senate for review. Sen. Michael Connelly, a Wheaton Republican, is the sponsor.

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