Legislation that would help high schools and community colleges create an opportunity for students to graduate with an associate degree passed the Illinois House last week.
Based on a board-approved program being rolled out next year by Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300, House Bill 5561, brought by state Rep. David McSweeney, creates the Accelerate College pilot program, which will provide a pathway for interested high schools to partner with local community colleges. It cleared the house Tuesday with a 115-0 vote.
McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, launched his efforts for the bill after learning of District 300’s program. He worked with District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid through the process.
“Programs such as these can be used as another tool to address college readiness and can help open up the possibility of college to those who otherwise wouldn’t consider it,” McSweeney said in a news release. “At a time when college costs are rising significantly, this could help students, who may have thought college was out of reach, save a considerable amount of money.”
The bill provides for a voluntary pilot program through which a community college can enter into an agreement with any school district in its jurisdiction.
The district would have to offer a cohort of no more than 45 students, and 90 students the second year, the right to take college courses without having to pay the tuition.
District 300 pays about $10,100 a student in operational costs, and Heid said those are the dollars that will be used to pay for each participating student’s tuition, allowing students to go for free.
The first year of the program will include 30 seniors, while the second year also will include a cohort of juniors who can participate for two years to earn their associate in arts or science upon graduating high school, Heid said, adding that students still will be able to participate in high school activities such as athletics and other clubs.
If it clears the state Senate, the bill will not mean school districts and community colleges have to participate – just that a pathway will exist for the start of such a program.
According to the bill, any coursework completed by high school students in a community college will be transferable to all public universities in Illinois on the same basis as coursework finished by community college students.
Under the bill, colleges also would have the right to limit the courses offered to high-schoolers and may charge nontuition fees. The partnerships resulting from the legislation will be studied, and reports will be made to the General Assembly, as well as the governor.
McHenry County College likely wouldn’t participate in the official Accelerate College pilot program, MCC President Clinton Gabbard said, because the college already has a similar program of its own in the works.
“Right now, we’re in the final planning stages with three districts – Huntley [Community School District] 158, [Woodstock Community] School District 200, and Alden-Hebron District 19,” Gabbard said. “We’ve been working for over a year on the program for high school students to earn their associates.”
The MCC program’s projected start date is fall 2017.
Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Wheaton, will carry the legislation in the Senate and has until the end of May to bring it forward for a vote, McSweeney said.