Harper College, the Palatine-based community college, has sought in recent years to begin offering four-year degrees, a plan that has other community colleges and the state’s four-year schools running for the hills (and their local lawmakers).
The four-year schools fear an erosion of students and dollars. The community colleges fear Harper will upset the state’s financial applecart and the backlash from the big schools won’t be good for the community colleges.
But Harper has persisted, flying in out-of-state officials to testify before lawmakers, hiring politically connected lobbyists and generally upping its presence at the Capitol.
So far, they’ve had little success. But the path is indicative of the way things work, or don’t work, in Springfield.
When the idea was first put into legislation in the Illinois House, it naturally was assigned to the House Higher Education Committee. Well, that committee is loaded with lawmakers from communities with major, four-year institutions who aren’t keen on the Harper idea. It went nowhere.
Supporters managed to get the proposal switched to the House Local Government Committee. Last year, the committee narrowly approved a very limited test run of Harper’s plan, with it limited to a few specific law enforcement related degrees funded solely with outside dollars and giving any public university dibs on offering the degree on Harper’s campus first.
Last year that plan passed the Illinois House 69-48.
Upon arrival in the Senate, the plan was again sent to a Higher Education Committee. Again, it stalled.
In recent weeks, supporters managed to get it moved to the Senate’s State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. This time, however, it was voted down, even after supporters made significant concessions.
“Why is it here?” asked state Sen. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican.
As currently proposed, Harper would be explicitly barred from pursuing dreams of becoming a four-year institution. Every public and private college and university would have the opportunity to offer the four-year degree pilot programs on Harper’s campus that Harper wants before Harper would be allowed to do them itself.
The school would have to insure that the credits received by students in the pilot program could be transferred to other schools.
And at the end of the test run, state auditors would descend on Harper to make sure no local property tax dollars, state funding or tuition money from the general student population was used for the four-year programs.
All that, however, didn’t sway its numerous critics at the Capitol.
Harper's journey is an illustration of how the formal committee names really mean nothing in the process of Illinois government. The thing to remember is there’s no requirement that education legislation actually go to a legislation committee. For that matter, gun laws often end up in agriculture committees.