Harper, ECC commit funds to Hanover Park education center
Once facing possible closure, a Hanover Park community education center operated jointly by two community colleges has received a lifeline that will allow it to stay in operation for another three years.
Officials at the Education and Work Center at 6704 Barrington Road said earlier this spring there was no guarantee the center could keep its doors open after the spring 2018 semester, in the face of dwindling resources.
But now that a state budget has been approved, Harper College and Elgin Community College have each allocated funding that officials say should keep the center afloat through June of 2020.
Harper and ECC have each appropriated $500,000, while State Sen. Cristina Castro secured an additional $225,000 line item in the state budget, though those funds haven't yet been released by the governor's office.
"Both colleges are making a commitment for that length of time," Harper Provost Judy Marwick said. "Providing nothing catastrophic happens, I think that's a firm commitment."
The center offers free classes in English as a Second Language, high school equivalency and computer skills, while the on-site Illinois workNet Center offers job search assistance, resume help, computer tutoring and career advice.
The center opened in fall 2014 as a three-year pilot project; Harper decided earlier this year it would extend its commitment for the current fall 2017 semester, but wouldn't be able to partner with ECC after that.
Both schools say they were in a better position to reaffirm their commitment after the two-year state budget impasse ended in July.
Rebecca Walker, senior director of the Education and Work Center, said the center costs about $500,000 to run annually, with the cost split between the two colleges. Beyond those operating funds, the center utilizes a mix of state and federal funds through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to pay for adult education classes, employment services and other direct services.
Because of future funding uncertainties, the two schools are now having brainstorming meetings to discuss ways the center can be self-sustaining.
"We never believed the center wasn't good for students or the community," Marwick said. "The center does not sustain itself financially. We hope in the next three years to be able to alter that."
That could include adding fee-based classes, such as noncredit or certificate courses in career and technical or continuing education, along with seeking more synergies with the workNet Center, officials said.
Enrollment remains strong, Walker said, with about 600 students per year. There's a waiting list of about 120 people hoping to enroll in classes to begin in January.