Harper, Oakton to ink deal with SIU for online degree pathways
Two suburban community colleges are among the first to ink a deal with Southern Illinois University in Carbondale allowing their students to earn four-year degrees remotely and at a lower cost.
Harper College in Palatine and Oakton Community College in Des Plaines will sign agreements next week to join SIU's Saluki Step Ahead program.
After graduating with associate degrees from Harper or Oakton, students will be able to transfer to SIU to earn bachelor's degrees in six academic programs: accounting, business administration, health care management, radiologic sciences, criminology and criminal justice, and psychology. They will pay the community college rate for their first two years and receive an annual $4,000 scholarship in years three and four, allowing them to earn a degree online for less than $25,000. Students who sign up for the program will receive career guidance from an SIU adviser.
SIU will partner with Harper's University Center to offer bachelor's degree programs in accounting, paralegal and public safety management on Harper's campus. It will provide a hybrid experience for students who can't make the move to Carbondale. That along with the Saluki Step Ahead online program will provide greater access to education, Harper President Avis Proctor said.
Harper also partners with DePaul University, Northern Illinois University and Roosevelt University to offer eight different noncompeting degree programs through the University Center. More than 330 students are enrolled at the center, which has graduated nearly 50 students since it opened in 2018. Its enrollment has grown each semester since.
"It really has been a game-changer," said Proctor, adding the college now has a good balance of in-person and online offerings. "The value and the affordability is attractive. Emerging from the pandemic, people are really needing to revisit skill sets and build them. This is just another way of doing that, being responsive to the needs of the community."
The COVID-19 pandemic has made online college more attractive to many students who previously might not have considered it a viable option.
"One of the great benefits (of the SIU partnership) is that it offers online pathways in some majors which are very popular," said Anne Brennan, Oakton assistant vice president of academic affairs and college transitions.
SIU is among the top 20 higher education destinations for Oakton students.
"There's a new openness to online opportunities (in) the college market," Brennan said.
"Now that everybody's had a taste of it, people know what they like, and some are choosing online education."
Oakton has agreements with more than 25 universities, some of which offer online degree programs. This fall, about 58% of Oakton's credit students intend to transfer to a four-year college or university, officials said.
SIU had to increase its online degree offerings substantially during the pandemic. It now offers 11 such programs, said Josi Rawls, assistant director for transfer relations.
"For transfer students, the accessibility piece is so important," she said. "A lot of times they have families, careers; they can't just uproot their lives and move to another city."
Rawls said the six majors offered as part of the Saluki Step Ahead program already are well established and popular with SIU's online students.
SIU has signed an agreement with the Illinois Community College Board to bring that program to all 48 community colleges statewide.