Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Crain's: Dorms in the future for community college students

State Rep Nick Smith

I wonder if this legislation affects the City Colleges of Chicago. Closer to the south side imagine dorms at Olive-Harvey, Kennedy-King, or even Daley Colleges. This is an initiative of 34th District State Representative Nicholas Smith who has a history with two-year colleges.

Now that he’s a member of the Illinois General Assembly, Nick Smith isn’t embarrassed to say he struggled early in college. As he bounced back and forth between classes and his job, he spent little time on campus.

It wasn’t until Smith got a work-study job at Olive-Harvey College, a Far South Side community college, that things changed. “I started to feel immersed in the academic setting. I started to feel focused,” he recalls. After completing the two-year program, Smith went on to get a bachelor’s degree from nearby Chicago State University, and since 2019 he has represented the 34th District in the State Assembly.

With his personal experience in mind, Smith introduced legislation in Springfield this year that allows community colleges to add student housing for the first time. Signed into law July 9 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the measure allows for residential projects to begin on or near campuses throughout the state starting in January.

The law is an empty vessel at the moment, expressing the ambition to do something new to address housing insecurity for people aiming to lift themselves out of poverty via a community college education. Nontrivial matters—most crucially, how the idea will be paid for—aren’t addressed in a piece of legislation that is only a few paragraphs long.

Here are some things specific to the city colleges:

At City Colleges, a network of seven campuses in Chicago, more than half of all students said they lacked stable housing in the last 12 months, according to a survey conducted in 2018 by the Hope Center for College, Community & Justice at Temple University. About 15 percent of students said they experienced homelessness in the same period. Black students, students identifying as LGBTQ and those who were independent of their parents or guardians in financial aid packages were more likely to experience needs insecurity, the report found. “Housing insecurity and homelessness have a particularly strong, statistically significant relationship with college completion rates, persistence, and credit attainment,” the report said.

City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado issued a statement to Crain’s saying the schools are committed to addressing students’ “comprehensive needs,” including housing and food insecurity, so attendees can focus on their schoolwork. The network looks forward to “exploring partnerships that would create affordable housing for our students, in particular the many City Colleges students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity,” the statement said.

For students who are homeless and not connected to their parents, there’s a specific way their academic program is harmed, said Niya Kelly, director of state legislation at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Because of “the presumption in this country that your parents help you until you’re 23 or 25 years old,” Kelly said, colleges generally require a parent’s Social Security and other tax information.

Students who don’t have that “get dinged and have to go through an appeal process,” Kelly said, which results in “getting their packets later, which means registering for classes after other people and dealing with that uncertainty of not knowing whether they’re going to get to go back to school or not.”

Removing any of these obstacles, Smith said, “is adding to our students’ chances of succeeding” and using that college degree to improve their circumstances.

You know how could this affect the surrounding area. With Olive-Harvey and Kennedy-King for example could this be a good thing for the surrounding neighborhoods? 

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