Speaking Out: Regardless of the name, 'community' is key to Oakton
Oakton Community College recently voted to change its name in the near future to Oakton College.
One can debate the pros and cons of such a name change, but "community" is key to Oakton and the approximately 1,000 community colleges around the country. You can take "community" out of the name, but you can't take "community" out of the college.
I watched Oakton grow up, evolve and mature. It was sort of part of the family, with my Dad's involvement with its formation and development as its founding chairman and a board member for more than 35 years, and his commitment to expanding and improving community colleges across the country. I know firsthand that Oakton and other community colleges relate to, reflect and respond to the community.
Our conversations around the dinner table made me understand that "community" is, and has been, key to the college flourishing. I am proud that Oakton's -- and my Dad's -- commitment to community was recognized when the satellite campus in Skokie was named the Ray Hartstein Campus in 1995 while he was still on the board and around to appreciate that recognition.
Now, after having been closed during much of the pandemic, the Ray Hartstein campus of Oakton Community College will reopen to the community, with many new improvements, and be rededicated on Tuesday, Sept. 21. I am hopeful that the rededication reflects an ongoing commitment to the community it serves. I am hopeful that it marks a dedication to more access to community colleges for community members from all walks of life around the nation.
That can and will happen if the Congress approves the proposal to extend access to further education for all students by ensuring free community college educations across the country, as a few states have already done, so the next generation of workers will have the tools to meet the challenges of the new era. Let's all advocate for that extended education for all.
Oakton is accommodating to the community in terms of their schedules with 1,987 full-time students and 4,955 part-time students. Similarly, nationally in community colleges 35% are full-time and 65% part-time students. Oakton serves around 450,000 and reflects the diversity of the community with a student body that is 45% white, 23% Asian, 16% Hispanic/Latinx, 8% Black 1% American Indian or Alaskan native. There is similar diversity in most community colleges across the country. Oakton serves a wide range of ages in the community with 62% between the ages of 18 and 24, and 32% between 25 and 64 and 2% over 65 and 1% under 18. The average age nationally in community colleges is 28, with 56% being under 22, 36% between 22 and 39 and 8% over 40. 49% are men and 51% are women at Oakton, and nationally the breakdown is 57% women and 43% men. Oakton is responsive to the needs and desires of the community with 130 different areas of studies to prepare those who need a skillset to move directly into a career, those who want to transition to a four-year institution or those who would simply like to engage in lifelong learning. Other community colleges, likewise, have a wide array of offerings to build a stronger educational foundation for their students.
The cost of college education is staggering today, with Americans owing more than $3 trillion in student loans. Recent stats on community college vs four-year public universities show community colleges across the country have average annual in-state tuition of around $7,000 lower than four-year public institutions. In our area and in communities around the nation, we get a good bang for the buck from our community colleges. In-district tuition at Oakton is around $5,000 to $7,000 per year, while most public four-year institutions are usually twice that or more.
A community college is clearly far more affordable and accessible, and it allows students to live at home, work nearby and stay involved in their communities. Sadly, even the lower tuition at community colleges is more than many can afford. If community college tuition was made a free -- part of public education -- it would be even more accessible and would level the playing field for a much-needed education for all.
Though 12 years of free public education has been the tradition, as we move forward, all students should be entitled to an extended education to meet the challenges of tomorrow and be better prepared for the workforce. A high school education alone isn't always sufficient in the ever-changing world in which we are living. That extended education should be a part of all communities. Statistics also bear out that those who complete an extra two years of education beyond high school through community colleges make more than $7,000 per year over those who only complete high school. To the extent that it paves the way for going on and getting a bachelor's degree, the dividend will be earning close to an additional $20,000 per year more on the average above the $7,000.
Let's push to help all kids have more education, increased earnings, better employment options and broader their horizons. They are the future of our nation and a pretty good investment. Here in our own backyard, we are lucky to have a community college like Oakton, and we should all hope that more kids, adults, and families in our communities can reap its benefits. As we see Oakton rededicate the Ray Hartstein campus, let us all dedicate ourselves to making sure more students have access to a community college that can make a difference in their lives.
• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. If you are interested in possibly discussing this topic further over Zoom with Elliott and others, you can email him at email@example.com.